Local Authorities disobey ‘Working together’

When I was tagged in December to write about the 7 best things that had happened in 2006, I mentioned discovering that:

after a 6-month battle, the coalition of organisations we’d pulled together had persuaded government not to introduce mandatory police/social services reporting for under-16s using sexual health services.

Our jubilation was a bit premature. The guidance issued by government (‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’) is not statutory, and so ARCH and Brook joined forces to gather in the sexual health protocols of each local authority in order to see if any had included mandatory reporting. We found that over one-third of authorities are instructing clinicians to report any sexually active child under 13.

Whatever one’s views on 12-year-olds having sexual relationships, the policy is utterly misguided. Practitioners are well aware of the potential for abuse, and that the younger the person, the greater the risk. If children are deterred from accessing services altogether for fear of being automatically reported to the police, the opportunity to help those in abusive relationships simply vanishes. They are also left in danger of contracting STIs and/or getting pregnant.

The police in some areas have said that, although they will only prosecute if a relationship is abusive, they will hold all details as ‘soft intelligence’, which could have later repercussions for someone needing an advanced CRB check in order to work with children.

The dog’s dinner that was the Sexual Offences Act 2003 created a situation where anyone over 10 can be prosecuted for sexual activity, but at the same time is deemed too young to understand sufficiently to offer valid consent. Go figure. There is no defence of consent available, and all attempts to get a ‘parity of age’ + consent (a ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ clause, common in other EU countries) failed dismally when the Act was going through parliament.

The provisions in relation to under-13s have particularly worrying implications, because intercourse is classed as rape, and leads to automatic lifelong sex-offender registration – regardless of the age of the offender.

The Telegraph today carries a story on this, although they’ve managed to avoid mentioning ARCH altogether, despite the fact that it was a joint press release. It’s a regular occurrence with the Telegraph and Mail, though – we reckon it’s because they can’t bear to put ‘children’ and ‘rights’ in the same sentence!

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3 Responses to Local Authorities disobey ‘Working together’

  1. Carlotta says:

    What are those clinicians in those authorities saying about this? Surely, old habits of maintainence of confidentiality would die hard, or have they all become so habituated to sharing patient information widely, that they don’t care any more?

    Next research…incidence of long term STDs in children and numbers of teenage mothers in those areas.

  2. archrights says:

    Oh, they are absolutely up in arms about it! The trouble is, they are being squeezed between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the Primary Care Trusts that employ them directly are instructing them to obey the local child protection procedures; on the other hand their own professional ethics and the GMC say they must maintain confidentiality. I’m told that in some areas, the conflict has become so unmanageable that services have simply stopped seeing under-13s altogether.

    All of the medical orgs have participated actively in the campaign to keep confidentiality – there’s a full list of particpants at: http://www.arch-ed.org/issues/shs/shs_sigs.htm

  3. […] Spring meeting to talk about confidentiality in adolescent sexual health services – something we flagged up a few weeks […]

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