Everyone is responsible for the care and welfare of children. It is important that you act straightaway if you suspect child abuse. Even if you only think that the child is being abused and you are not totally certain, you should ensure that your concerns are reported and investigated by professionals.
Who should I report my concerns to?
In an emergency, you should dial 999 or if not an emergency, dial 101. Alternatively, you can report your concerns at your local police station. The police must by law investigate all reports of child abuse. If the child is under 16, they will usually involve Children’s Services.
They will take an initial report and forward this onto one of their Child Abuse Investigation Units. The Unit will then investigate the concern thoroughly but sensitively, putting the needs of the child at risk first.
In some emergency circumstances, the police have the power to remove a child from their home and take them into police protection for up to 72 hours. The police do not need a Court Order to do this.
Following the police investigation, legal action may be taken against the abuser. It will depend on whether the Crown Prosecution Service can prove that the abuser committed an offence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ as to whether they will be found guilty. The child may have to give evidence in court but support is available to all witnesses and often the victim, if they are a child, will be able to give evidence via video or live television links.
Your Local Children Services Team
When you call, you should ask to speak with the duty social worker and they will discuss your concerns with you. Children’s Services will decide if the child needs protection and what needs to be done. If it is clear that a child is at risk, they will make some enquiries and arrange to meet with the child and the parents or carers for an initial assessment. If, after initial enquiries, they decide that the child is not at risk they may decide to take no further action. Their enquiries can last several weeks and involve several interviews, family visits and medical examinations. They will usually interview the child and anyone that the child has come into contact with. Usually the parents will be informed of the enquiries but in some situations they will start their enquiries before informing the parents. In some situations, they will take urgent action to have the child removed from the family home and placed under police protection. They will always inform the police in cases of sexual abuse. At the end of their enquiries, the can recommend:
– police investigation
– applying for a court order for permission to place the child in care
– applying for a court order to place the child under the supervision of the local authority or a probation officer. This means the family will get help and support for the child to stay at home
– making a child protection plan for a child
Children’s Services don’t often recommend court action or criminal prosecution, but this will depend on the circumstances.
The NSPCC (Tel 0808 8005000)
You can contact the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on the free helpline service to speak to an NSPCC counsellor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They will listen to and address your concerns and take action on your behalf if a child is at risk. You can remain anonymous if you wish. All communications are recorded.
A call handler will answer the phone and ask a few basic questions to understand your worries and provide answers to specific queries. You will then be transferred to a counsellor who will listen to your concerns and ask questions to make sure they understand the information, so that they can assess the situation and advise on a course of action. Most of the time this will involve the NSPCC passing the information on to the police or Social Services.
You can report your concerns to health visitors, doctors and hospital staff, youth and community workers, probation officers, teachers and other school staff, nursery staff, education welfare officers, educational psychologists and other professionals.
If you are a professional who suspects a child is being abused or have had a report of child abuse made to you, you have responsibilities to refer your concerns to Children’s Services or the police.
Whilst there are no specific mandatory laws in the UK to report any suspicions to the authorities, government guidance “Working together to safeguard children (DCSF, 2010)” states that “Everybody who works or has contact with children, parents and other adults in contact with children should be able to recognise, and know how to act upon, evidence that a child’s health or development is or may be being impaired — especially when they are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.”(Para 5.8).
Para 5.12 goes on to say that “All staff members who have or become aware of concerns about the safety or welfare of a child or children should know:
– who to contact in what circumstances, and how; and
– when and how to make a referral to local authority children’s social care services or the police.”
If there are any child welfare concerns “relevant information about the child and family should be discussed with a manager, or a named or designated health professional or a designated member of staff depending on the organisational setting.”(Para 5.13).2
The guidance makes clear reference to the duty to act on any child welfare concerns in para 5.18: “If somebody believes or suspects that a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm then s/he should always refer his or her concerns to the local authority children’s social care services. In addition to social care, the police and the NSPCC have powers to intervene in these circumstances.”