The statutory obligation to report suspected child abuse
From Brother Ivo:
Apologists for 'The Perfect State' have just taken a step forward with the proposal that it should be a criminal offence for care professionals not to report child abuse to the authorities.
Let nobody misunderstand. Brother Ivo hates child abuse with a passion, and if he thought for a moment that such a proposal would have a protective outcome, he would give Keir Starmer's suggestion serious consideration. But he doesn't find the advancement of state power or the 'price worth paying' argument remotely attractive. When a very great and lasting evil is to be combated, Brother Ivo would go a long way in setting aside his hesitations if it would save the little ones that Christ loves especially.
The question is, would it actually assist?
It is a little unclear as to the extent to which the obligation extends. Initially the proposal is framed in terms of 'care professionals', but as one hears talk of 'all in loco parentis' the ambit grows until it surely threatens to encompass everyone engaged in child-related activities though the holding of a 'Disclosing and Barring' (formerly CRB) certificate. It seems that all those who volunteer for Cubs or to become lay readers or teaching assistants would be acquiring serious obligations in areas of expertise where they may have neither experience nor expertise.
Extending a positive duty so that more citizens have to to report any suspicion of criminal offence takes us closer to the Stasi State than almost any other proposal that can be imagined. Why not impose a similar duty to report drug abuse (which equally harms children), or domestic abuse (which statistically frequently correlates with child mistreatment)? And why not make it mandatory to report illegal immigration (with its trafficking dimension) or, for that matter, tax evasion? After all, if we had more money we would surely put more resources into combatting such evils, wouldn't we?
Vulnerable children would, however, still be at the mercy of officials to act or not act as they exercise their discretions. Isn't this the same Keir Starmer who, when presented with the plainest evidence of law-breaking abortion doctors, decided to re-interpret the law (or does Brother Ivo mean disregard?), and sub-contract the matter to a professional trade union? There is no greater abuse of childhood innocence than the tearing of a child from her mother's womb for no better reason than being a little girl. But these slutty little females just beg for it, don't they?
It is perhaps uncharitable for Brother Ivo to consider that Mr Starmer is trying to restore his credentials following that controversy, but he still burns with indignation on the matter and is in no mood to make nice.
What is startling in this proposal is that, hearing of this revised and upgraded threshold of police intervention, inexperienced 'child protection professionals' may fear themselves at risk of criminalisation for failures to act upon suspicion, but there is no counterbalancing offence for those in authority failing to weigh the evidence or enforce the law. There have been over 30 public inquiries into child deaths since that of Maria Colwell in 1973, and they all say the same thing: everybody knew a little, but nobody joined up the dots. There really is no need for any more such inquiries, for this is always the conclusion. So how about placing criminal responsibility there?
Except that too is not very easy.
Social Services hold statutory rights, powers and duties as well. Sometimes they take early action on their own initiative; sometimes they have a suspicion but share responsibility by asking other agencies to confirm what they know at a case conference. That invitation to gather information (and 'join up the dots') is sensible, but do they yet commit a criminal offence?
How many of those sitting at the table of statutory child-protection conferences will be exposed to this reporting liability? Will they only carry responsibility for reporting or making the consequent judgement? What of the teacher's assistant, or the nursing colleague who steps in to cover for illness? If the case conference decides that, on balance, there is insufficient cause for concern, should all the individual members call the police, just in case? Is the one who doesn't potentially criminalised? They all now know, but may have varying levels of concern.
There is the problem of data overload as every slight concern is reported, and allegedly cash-strapped agencies and perhaps the Legal Aid system would have to resource the evaluation of each and every report. As 'protective reporting' grows, so will the cost and so will the fog of war.
Overall, we need better case evaluation, not more data.
To illustrate the problem, Brother Ivo recalls a sports coach who was reported by the 'concerned parent' of an opposing team when they observed, from 50 yards away, his brusqe rubbing of a cold child's arms on a biting wintery day as she waited to be substituted. The child's parent was adjacent and thought the allegation outrageous, but investigated it all was, and in extensive detail.
When this happens under the current regime, we have to ask whether we want or can afford to invite additional reports by anxious subjects whe think 'better safe than sorry'. The malicious will have a field day. How would the recipient of any such information - be it sports administrator, police officer or headteacher, etc - dare to take a proportionate view at an early stage?
There are many nursery teachers 'breaking the rules' about not touching children by giving a distressed toddler a cuddle. Brother Ivo himself responded to a child announcing her birthday to him in junior church by lightly kissing the top of her head. Honi soit qui mal y pense is no more. Brother Ivo had better do himself in, or pack a bag for when the historic case review PC police come calling.
And what is the sexual abuse of which we speak? Brother Ivo has written before of the virtual abandonment of the protection supposedly afforded by the age of consent. Shall we now see every adolescent relationship examined minutely? There is one immunity that we can predict with confidence: the case of the contraceptive advisor to the 14-year-old girl will, of course, trigger no obligation to inform parents or social services, and no aborted baby will be DNA-tested to secure solid evidence of the identity of the criminal seducer. No, that would be far too easy. Requiring it would offend the pro-abortionists, and they must be safeguarded above all others.
It is not, of course, the fact that Joe and Jo Public are not doing their jobs that is the true scandal, but rather that our public officials are never adequately called to account for their much more overt failures. Perhaps we should be reducing the public pensions of all those who have presided over child abuse within our public institutions? We could make the exist on the 'living wage', and begin with police, Social Services and employees of the BBC.
This is a serious suggestion. If there has been significant institutional failure - and their frequently is - why should there be an open-ended taxpayer liability to sustain such people in wealth beyond the average subjects' hopes and aspirations? Why should the consequences of disciplinary action fall short of curbing future reward for services inadequately performed? Legislative change that removes contractual liability to reward past failure after due process is neither unjust, nor contrary to any concept of human right that Brother Ivo cares to acknowledge.
Such failure would perhaps be more commensurate with the offence, and importantly would only have to be proved to a civil standard - on the balance of probabilities - rather than beyond reasonable doubt, as required by the criminal courts. Furthermore, civil/contractual retribution is likely to be harder in many cases than the criminal sanction. Our appeal judges reduced the sentence of Maria Colwell's killer to just four years (less remission). We shall be paying Sharon Shoesmith's pension for 30-odd years minimum.
Is this not better and more effective for society to apply pressure upon public servants to do that which they are paid to do? And while we're about it, rather than him complaining about the unreported specs in lesser folks' eyes, could we not perhaps start with Keir Starmer?
Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers