Malicious reports - advice

This advice provides information regarding managing malicious reports.

Document ID number 2006, version 2, 1 March 2016.

Introduction

Malicious reports are those where a person reports to child protection the circumstances of a child they allege to be in need of protection with the intention of causing harm, generally to the reported parent or family.

In most cases the identified concerns of malicious reports will be false or fall well below the threshold for child protection intervention. Sometimes however, whilst the intent of the reporter may be to cause harm, the reported risks to the child may be real. A clear focus upon assessing actual harm or likelihood of harm is required by practitioners in all cases, regardless of the perceived intent of the reporter.

Identifying the substance of a report as malicious is a significant decision which has the potential to influence the assessed level of risk to the child or young person and the credibility of future reports from this source. Such decisions require careful consideration and consultation with a team manager, particularly where an assessment is made with limited information and opportunity to corroborate concerns.

Assessment of a report as malicious

For a report to be assessed as malicious, the following factors must be present:

  • evidence of the reporter's intent to cause harm by reporting
  • assessment that the child is not in need of protection.

The frequency or number of reports made may be relevant.

The combination of the existence of a stated conflict between the reporter and the family of the reported child, and concerns not meeting the threshold for child protection intervention is, in itself, insufficient for a report to be treated as malicious. A reporter may still have genuine concern for the child.

Assessment of reporter intent at intake

Assessing the intent of the reporter at the point of intake is likely to be a difficult task, and the focus of the intake practitioner must remain firmly on identifying and assessing the known and alleged harm and future risk of harm to the child’s safety, development and wellbeing.

Question the reporter

Where a report is perceived to be malicious, the intake practitioner it is particularly important to clarify with the reporter the following questions:

  • How long have the concerns been known to you?
  • Are there any other concerns of which you are aware?
  • What convinced you to report to child protection now?
  • Have you done anything (apart from reporting) to address the problem?
  • Have you talked with others regarding these concerns? Would they agree with your perspective? What would they say?

Consider the history

In cases where the intake practitioner perceives a report may be malicious, care should be taken to review any material that may be on file including previous reports with this in mind; such a review may assist the practitioner to assess risk to the child, and the motivation of the reporter.

Re-contact the reporter

Where further information from the reporter would assist in determining the nature and degree of risk to the child and the perception that the report may be malicious, consideration should be given to recontacting the reporter (if possible), and clarifying the nature of the concerns and motivation for reporting.

Contact other professionals

Where other professionals are involved with the family, child protection should contact them to attempt to corroborate information conveyed by the reporter and clarify and assess the degree of the concerns, and where appropriate, the motivation of the reporter.

Decision to record report as malicious

Where it is assessed that a report is likely to be malicious, consultation with a team manager is required. Only where there is clear evidence, and with the approval of a team manager, should a report be recorded as malicious. This record must include evidence for the assessment and must be endorsed by the team manager.

Persistent reporting assessed to be malicious

Where a reporter makes multiple reports that are assessed as being malicious, advice should be sought from Legal Services and the Child Protection Unit, Statutory and Forensic Services, regarding the available legal remedies to address the situation.

All new information and concerns in any subsequent reports from this reporter must be assessed on their merits and separate from the status of the previous report as malicious.

Considerations for good practice

  • Where a report is made by a family member or other persons in the context of an ongoing conflict with the reported family, practitioners need to ensure the focus of the assessment remains clearly upon assessing the present and future risk of harm to the child’s safety, development and wellbeing and not on the nature of the conflict or the motivation of the reporter. Family dynamics are complex and, while a recent argument or disagreement may have provided the reporter with the motivation to call, the concerns they identify may well be valid and longstanding.
  • In some instances, people with personal relationships with the families they report may feel unable to raise issues of concern directly with parents, for fear of fracturing the family, potential loss of relationships with family members, children or grandchildren, or sometimes fear of violence or reprisal. Their proximity and reluctance to raise the issues directly may sometimes suggest they have a covert agenda in making the report. Whilst in some cases the concerns may not meet the threshold for child protection intervention, they nevertheless may be well intentioned and arise from genuine concern.
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