Questions about child abuse

15th April 2016 at 00:00
legal ease

The Goddard Inquiry is a formal statutory investigation established to consider the extent to which institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. Under the inquiry’s terms of reference, it is also to consider the extent to which failings have since been addressed and to make recommendations for the protection of children in the future.

The inquiry has an extraordinarily broad remit. There is no fixed time limit for the inquiry or the period under investigation, although there is the “hope and expectation” that the final report will be published by 2020. Nearly £18 million has been budgeted for the first year alone.

How will this affect schools?

At present, there is a single investigation directly relating to schools, which focuses on child sexual abuse in residential schools. However, the inquiry has the potential to affect all schools. Schools may find themselves involved in other investigations (such as those of the Roman Catholic or Anglican Church or thematic investigations), and other education-specific investigations are expected to follow. It is also possible that schools may be drawn into investigations where members of staff who are subject to scrutiny have worked across different schools.

What should schools do?

We recommend that all schools take the following steps:

Preserve or collate documents. Any documents that could be relevant to the inquiry must be preserved for its duration, regardless of whether you have received a formal notice from the inquiry. Schools may be required to provide documents quickly. Take steps now to identify and collate records of potential interest to the inquiry and consider whether any of them are subject to privilege.

Establish an internal “Goddard team” to assess the risks the inquiry presents to your school. Watch the progress of the investigations and manage your possible involvement.

Review your insurance position. It is foreseeable that this inquiry will precipitate claims for compensation. We recommend that schools take steps now to track their insurance history and liaise with appropriate insurers.

Consider PR. Schools may wish to prepare appropriate communications to staff and parents.

Consider whether to self-report. The inquiry has made it clear that institutions should take a proactive stance by reviewing files, records and procedures voluntarily and by taking the initiative to self-report instances of institutional failure. This is not without risk and should be considered carefully by schools on a case-by-case basis.

Review your safeguarding policies. The inquiry has advised institutions “above all” to review safeguarding practices to make sure they are consistent with best practice, and to take whatever steps they can to provide a safer environment.

For more information, see iicsa.org.uk

Alice Reeve is a partner at education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards

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