Teachers could face up to five years in prison for failing to protect children from sexual exploitation under new reforms being considered by the government.
Prime minister David Cameron announced plans this morning to consult on extending the criminal offence of “wilful neglect” of patients to children’s social care, education and elected officials in response to the “institutional failings” found following the Rotherham child abuse scandals and elsewhere.
The move will mean teachers could face strong criminal sanctions if they fail to report suspicions of child abuse being suffered by their pupils.
The decision comes as a new helpline has been created to allow school staff and other professions to blow the whistle on failings in care for children.
Child sex abuse has been prioritised as a “national threat”, placing it alongside serious and organised crime, meaning police forces have a duty to collaborate with each other across boundaries.
It comes after a series of damning reports by Alexis Jay, Ann Coffey, Louise Casey and others, which found “systematic institutional failings and cultures of denial and blame in Rotherham, Rochdale and most recently Oxfordshire.
In a statement today, Mr Cameron said too often children were “ignored, sometimes even blamed” by the authorities in cases of abuse.
“Today, I am sending an unequivocal message that professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure.
“Offenders must no longer be able to use the system to hide their despicable activities and survivors of child sexual abuse must be given the long-term therapeutic treatment they need to rebuild their lives,” he said.
And he added: “We owe it to our children, and to the children who survive horrific sexual abuse, to do better and ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated again.”
Number 10 is to host a summit on the issue, in which Cabinet members, leaders of local authorities and other experts will discuss the next steps.
A number of the most serious cases have involved young girls being groomed and abused by gangs of men often from Asian backgrounds, and education secretary Nicky Morgan said the government would work to tackle the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.
“We are absolutely not ducking the issue of ethnicity and there are groups of people, men in particular, who clearly have felt this kind of behaviour is either acceptable or they’re not going to get caught. There is a bigger piece of work to be done in relation to various communities”, she told BBC Breakfast.
“But we should also make it clear that of course all the perpetrators are not from one background – this is an issue which goes right the way across the country but there is a lot of work, particularly often with women and communities because they will often be the ones again who will see the signs, spot the signs, know what is going on and must know where to go and report their concerns.”