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Social Workers Who Fail to Act on Abuse Could Face Criminal Sanctions
A proposal published for consultation by the government could lead to the introduction of a duty on social workers to take action on or report child abuse.
The proposal which is being looked at by the Home Office suggests two new potential duties for social workers; a ‘duty to act’, or a mandatory reporting duty, both of which would place the reporting of child abuse on statutory footing.
Certain practitioners or organisations would be required to take appropriate action if they had reasonable cause to suspect that child abuse or neglect was taking place under the ‘duty to act’. Currently social workers only have an acknowledgement in the Working Together guidance that they should be taking appropriate action if there are signs of child abuse, however, there is currently no legal duty meaning that social workers have to do this.
The following new statutory measures could be considered under the proposal:
The consultation does however suggest that willful neglect would not be considered as a criminal sanction.
“Extending this offence therefore involves stretching it beyond its original purpose, which could have unintended consequences,” a supporting document says.
“The willful neglect offences nevertheless are a useful illustration of a statutory measure with both individual level and organisational level aspects.”
The principle of wilful neglect, a statutory measure with both individual and organisational elements, could still be used to construct a statutory duty “with or without an associated criminal offence”. This has informed the ‘duty to act’ option.
The sanctions which could be imposed if a social worker was to breach either duty could include existing practitioner sanctions (such as being struck off the HCPC register or additional processes which could involve the Disclosure and Barring Service, or even criminal sanctions at an individual and organizational level.
The criminal sanctions would have varying sentences based upon the severity of the case, but for both organisations and individuals fines could be involved, with imprisonment being an option for individuals.
Organisations could also be found criminally liable without a specific corporate criminal offence.
The report stresses that sanctions would only be introduced if either of the new duties are applied, and acknowledges that the possibility of sanctions could harm the workforce by hindering recruitment and leading to experienced, capable staff leaving their positions.
The consultation asks for views on whether professionals think mandatory reporting or a duty to act would improve outcomes for children, and if a new statutory measure for reporting abuse should be introduced. It is also seeking views on what the main issues in the current child protection system are.
It closes on October 16.