We need reform for more effective child protection

Chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay. (Jewish News)
Chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay. (Jewish News)

This past Friday we heard the closing statements to the governments Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) for the Religious Organisations and Settings strand. Chaired by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, the inquiry was set up because of serious concerns that some organisation had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.

The Chair and panel will issue their full report and recommendations next summer, but based on what we heard during the hearings and that of the written submissions it is clear we need reform for more effective child protection.

Mandatory reporting is something we all presume to be present in the UK as it is in 81.8% of the developed nations.

This is not the case.

In the UK we are reliant on the ‘expectations’ placed on teachers to report safeguarding concerns. When I participated in a seminar in April 2019 in front of the very same IICSA panel, we heard evidence from Professor Ben Mathews on how they implemented mandatory reporting in multiple states in Australia over a period of time which led to a significant increase – almost three times the amount – of reports from teachers, with a substantiated rate of 68.8%.

As our solicitor Richard Scorer put it in our closing statement, “Mandatory reporting law provides a refuge for those within regulated activities who often face fierce pressures not to report – pressures of loyalty to friends, to colleagues, to community and to the institution. Mandatory reporting gives people the ability to say “I have to do this” and in that way it enables them to escape the pressures against reporting abuse that we know arise all the time.”

Another recommendation I would expect from the chair and panel is support for an independent safeguarding regulator.

This would provide a set of common standards for every organisation, institution and setting where children are present.

A child in North West London would have the same safeguarding measures in place as a child would in South London, Bournemouth or Leeds. My take from the evidence heard over the course of IICSA is that our community ranges from being either flippant about safeguarding children in general, to being satisfied with meeting the minimum statutory requirements.

One would think that a community that has so much invested in a next generation, would not be comfortable with the idea of only providing safeguarding to statutory requirements.

When some imply that the bare minimum is what we parents and professionals have to fight, I wonder where our priorities lie.

While some of the Jewish organisations we heard from supported the idea of an independent regulator, the United Synagogue requested that religious communities be provided with “discretion” for safeguarding standards. Similarly, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation suggested there should be “negotiations”.

This stresses my point – safeguarding standards need to be externally regulated to ensure we don’t prioritise an institution over its members. It would prevent the opportunity for disguised compliance whereby organisations have safeguarding officers but no one quite knows who they are or how they work.

A large percentage of the calls we deal with at Migdal Emunah are inquiries regarding general child protection, where we provide information and guidance in how best to manage a safeguarding situation.

But why must we wait for the IICSA report and recommendations when we can be proactive as a community.

Over the years I have suggested the idea of a cross communal helpline designated for child protection as we do not need to send those in crisis on a scavenger hunt for service provision that suits their needs, or having untrained individuals managing high risk situations.

We need to start streamlining service provision, both for a cost benefit and for accessibility.

About the Author
Yehudis Goldsobel is the founder of Migdal Emunah and the UK's Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
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