Government proposals could mean that dinner ladies, caretakers and school secretaries could face a prison sentence if they fail to report or act on child abuse or neglect.
Official government proposals have been outlined in a consultation document published by the Home Office and Department for Education.
The proposals include a mandatory reporting duty and a “duty to act”.
A mandatory reporting duty would require organisations such as schools to report child abuse and neglect “if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place”.
The “duty to act” would mean staff would be required to take appropriate action in the event they suspect abuse or neglect, which could include reporting.
Currently, there is no general legal requirement for people working with children to report known or suspected abuse.
“Despite the best efforts of practitioners working with children and families” abuse and neglect continues to go undetected in institutions even though statutory guidance states that any bodies working with children and families must immediately report abuse or neglect if it is suspected.
The consultation document states: “The maximum sentences could vary in their severity, but for both individual practitioners and organisations they could involve fines. Imprisonment would also be an option for individual practitioners.”
It adds: “Those at senior levels within organisations such as local authorities, the health service and the police could be within scope.
“Those in administrative or other support roles for practitioners or organisations delivering the activities outlined above could also be within scope.
“School secretaries, caterers or caretakers, for example, may be in a position to identify and take action in relation to child abuse and neglect because of the nature of their working environment.”