Watchdog wary of rules on reporting child abuse
THE State's child protection watchdog last night urged the Government to reconsider proposed legislation that would make failure to report child abuse a criminal offence.
Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan said the proposed Children First Bill -- which would enshrine the State's child protection policies and guidelines in law -- includes criminal sanctions for social workers and other professionals working with children who fail to report child abuse or sexual offences against children.
But she said such sanctions could lead to a culture of fear in which there was an over-reporting of suspected child abuse cases that would overwhelm the system.
"My concern is the system may not be able to cope with an overload," Ms Logan told the Irish Independent last night.
She made the comments following her appearance at the Dail's Committee on Health and Children yesterday as part of its public consultation process into the Children First Bill.
Among her recommendations to the committee was that "non-criminal sanctions be employed for failure to comply with 'Children First' and that the criminal sanctions currently in the scheme be removed".
Under questioning by committee members, Ms Logan agreed that the State's record on reporting child abuse in the wake of the Murphy report into clerical child abuse and others, had been poor.
"But I don't think we need to go as far as criminal liability," she said.
She stressed that people who knowingly covered up or failed to report child abuse must still face criminal sanctions.
However, she said the proposed Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 was sufficient legislation to address the crime of failure to report abuse.
The Bill makes it a criminal offence to withhold information about serious offences committed against a child or vulnerable person.
"If someone knowingly withholds information, the withholding bill will cover it," she said.