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When solutions become the problem

by PeakCare Qld on 13th August 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> August -> When solutions become the problem

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When solutions become the problem

There’s little left to be said that hasn’t already been said about the failure of the I.T. system to process reports of suspected child abuse by school principals. The public has a right to feel confident in the systems developed to manage the protection of our state’s children and in this instance, we have been let down badly.

It is easy to imagine that, at some stage, this I.T. system drew accolades as the solution to the problem of dealing with large numbers of reports – up until the solution turned into the problem! Following the actions taken by the government to rectify the problem as soon as it was discovered, media and public interest has dissipated with an accompanying sigh of relief that no children appear to have suffered badly as a result of the glitch. There is no doubt that some individuals will pay a severe penalty for the error and will be living with considerable regrets. There will be lessons to be learned and we can expect that more stringent checking and double-checking steps will be applied to the management of I.T. systems.

With the I.T. problems fixed, is this where this saga should end? Have all the lessons to be learned been learned or are there more to come? Are there other associated solutions that have been grabbed at ready to turn into problems?

An examination of the events that have occurred over the past few days should not be confined to looking only at the I.T. systems and practices used to process reports of suspected child abuse. It is important to now query the value of the system of mandatory reporting that this system was intended to support. Has this system of mandating some selected groups to report suspected abuse actually brought real benefits in ensuring the safety of children? Or has it had an inadvertent effect of seeming to place this responsibility in the hands of a select few (be they teachers, nurses, doctors or the other mandated reporters) and caused a distraction from the message that child protection is everybody’s business – not only those whose responsibilities to report are mandated?

In mandating the responsibility to report, is there an almost inevitable effect created where, once a mandated reporter has met their obligation to report, they lessen their own watchful eye on the safety and well-being of the children about whom they have passed their concerns on to others to deal with?

Have we set up a system that lends itself to an over-reporting of concerns in order to ensure the compliance of mandatory reporters with their legal obligations, when less intrusive interventions and offers of assistance to a family may constitute a more helpful response?

Is it better to mandate responsibilities to report or to appeal to the professionalism of those currently mandated to report to remain child-aware and willing to report when necessary?

In mandating the reporting obligations of certain groups, have we created a system that discourages parents who may be struggling from seeking help from those who are often best placed to provide this help, for fear of being reported and having their children removed? How consistent is this with the goal of providing the right service at the right time by the right service provider?

With the Queensland Law Reform Commission having recently initiated a review of mandatory reporting, it is timely to ask and seek answers to these questions. The Commission will be examining whether mandatory reporting laws should be expanded to include the early education and care sector. Will this usefully extend the number of the select few who are currently mandated to report and add additional safeguards in protecting children? Or will it simply be an extension of a system that adds little if any known benefits in protecting children?

The Commission’s review provides opportunity for an impartial examination of the evidence and this is what we should be informed by if we are to avoid more ‘feels-good’ solutions becoming the problem.

Lindsay Wegener
Executive Director