Making Reporting of Child Abuse Mandatory

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A call for mandatory reporting of abuse.
July 26, 2022.

Five-year-old Malachi Subecz was murdered in November 2021. The ECE centre he attended saw and photographed multiple wounds. It did not seek to protect the child by reporting the abuse to authorities, but did ask his caregiver/ abuser about it.

In NZ law reporting of suspected child abuse and neglected is not mandatory for those who work with children.

Read more: news story on Stuff

In the Early Childhood Alert Newsletter that went out on 7 July we included a quick survey asking your opinion about mandatory reporting of child abuse.

Overwhelmingly, the feeling in the early childhood sector is that it should be made mandatory to report suspected abuse and neglect (92% respondents)

Examples of comments provided were:

  • It takes the guess work away from teachers. I think teachers can worry about making it worse if they intervene so hesitate for too long.
  • It gives teachers permission as often they are frightened to get it wrong or report as they do not want to be blamed as the reporter. Being mandatory means there is no one that can turn a blind eye and hope it doesn’t happen again or worse – a child life is lost because we didn’t wish to be involved in the reporting process.
  • If we don’t do it, who is advocating for our children? Family, friends, and neighbours cannot be relied upon and are not always in a position to stand up for the child’s best interests.
  • If you work with Tamariki, you should have a heart for them. It’s a moral duty to speak to the authorities.
  • We are advocates for these little humans, we have a responsibility to speak up, when they can’t. Turning a blind eye for whatever the reason is as bad as the neglect or abuse in my opinion.
  • It’s our duty to advocate for these children who are in our care, without that happening the cycle continues for these children.
  • Too many young children are slipping through the gaps with neglect and abuse.
  • I have heard from all too many relievers the inside story of what too many centres are ignoring or perpetuating. All is NOT well in our sector. Teachers know abuse is happening, in centres and at home and are often too scared to report it. It MUST be mandatory as children have no other voice.
  • There has been and continues to be appalling rates of child abuse in NZ. Such a simple way to prevent or stop our children being abused and neglected. Mandatory reporting should apply for ECE, primary and secondary sector ASAP.
  • We have a professional responsibility to put the child’s welfare first. Also, Refer to The Code of Professional Responsibility – where it discusses demonstrating a high standard of professional behaviour and integrity, including “behave in ways that promote a culture of trust and respect and confidence in me as a teacher and in the profession as a whole”
  • I believe this can often be the only other place (outside of the home) that would be in the position to recognize changes (physical and psychological) in a child. We should be protecting our tamariki.
  • Reporting could save a child from further abuse or save their lives.
  • All children need a trusted adult ‘in their corner’

We also asked what issues might need to be considered as part of making it compulsory to report suspected child abuse and neglect.

Comments received fell into 3 broad categories: the impact on the service; child participation in ECE; and procedures and protections for staff and the service.

Examples:

  • I have been told more than once that I am not allowed to make reports of concern because of the financial ramifications if the parents withdrew the child from our centre. Profits are being put before the welfare of the child.
  • Angry and aggressive parents/caregivers, can overload the system of supporting families and children. Lack of human resources.
  • Children being removed from a safe environment (the service) due to the report.
  • Parents remove child, adding stress and loss of friendships to the child.
  • Lack of confidentiality for ‘reporters’ of abuse.
  • We need more protection as teachers – there are too many people who are scared of the backlash if they report.
  • Safety issues for teachers if there is gang connections.
  • What happens if signs are missed – will staff be prosecuted because they “should” have seen it?
  • Making a wrong accusation, not having enough documentation to back up reports, causing distress to families if wrongly accused.
  • Noticing of abuse and neglect should be monitored with a support agency and made mandatory. Where this becomes difficult in smaller rural areas in at risk centres dealing with high levels of complex families (for a range of reasons new migrants, low socioeconomic families having had prior history etc) these centres need comprehensive working policies and plans for protection of the centres identity.
  • The service should add on the Enrolment form all the regulations when parents sign all documentation. Giving the service consent to report is mandatory. This also goes with absence rules or reporting absence.

Guides and resources

Get the template for a home-based/ centre ECE Service Child Protection Policy and Procedures, learn more, and strengthen your service’s current policy. Go to this link:  Child protection policy 

When a child discloses sexual abuse, it will always be distressing. It is natural for adults to feel at a loss to know how best to respond. The information provided here covers how to listen and respond to a child who tells you, or hints in even a vague way, that they or someone they know has been abused, what you can do to help, and whom to contact and go to for further advice and help. Go to this link: Getting help for an abused child.

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