Doctors to join with police to help crack paedophile rings

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The Independent Online
SPECIALIST TEAMS of police and social workers could be set up to crack paedophile rings - a plan contained in a government consultation paper to be published today which will spark a fresh national debate about how child abuse should be tackled.

The Green Paper, to be unveiled by health minister Paul Boateng, will say that child prostitution should be targeted by social services and police, and it will raise the possibility of a national register for people suspected but not convicted of child abuse offences.

Family doctors will also be given fresh guidance to override their professional codes of patient confidentiality in order to alert social workers and the police where they are presented with evidence of child abuse.

Child deaths could also be looked at more closely as part of the review of child abuse in what amounts to the most comprehensive consultation exercise for years mounted by the Government to prevent harm to children.

The Green Paper does not rule out legislation, but seeks to reinforce the action already being taken by agencies to tackle child abuse by improving co-ordination, the exchange of information, and issuing tougher guidelines to professionals in the front line. It says that investigating paedophile networks is complex, and time-consuming, and the time may have come to establish specialist teams of police and social workers to investigate abuse.

It points out that since the last major overhaul of the guidance in 1991, information about the nature of child abuse has increased substantially.

There were 967 cases over the past four years - an average of 242 cases a year - falling into three main categories: ritual abuse, paedophile networks and family abuse. Investigations looked into claims of occult abuse of children, but found little evidence for its existence.

The Green Paper says the Government recognises that organised abuse of children does occur sometimes within institutions such as residential homes or schools, involving child pornography and it has a "damaging and traumatic" effect on the victims.

It says that effective and clear procedures are needed for tackling organised child abuse and asks: "Is there a need for specialist teams?"

On family doctors, it says that guidance issued since the Department of Health document Working Together in 1991 made clear that child abuse was one of the exceptional circumstances in which disclosure of information to agencies, such as social services, could be justified in order to safeguard the interests of the child. Greater emphasis is now being placed on that guidance.

Doctors have become increasingly uneasy about the expansion of their "policing" role. A BMA source said: "GPs are facing policing tasks being imposed on them. It is happening in a number of areas, from drinkers to drivers and now child abuse. They think it's unfair."

It raises difficult issues for health professionals in breaking a confidence about families for whom they have to provide health care. However, it is unlikely that GPs will wish to be seen refusing to help the community in which they live to stop child abuse. The need for better co-ordination between agencies has been underlined repeatedly in reports on successive child abuse scandals.

The professor at the centre of a controversial project involving the clandestine filming of child abuse by parents in hospital said in October that more help was needed from family doctors in alerting the authorities to abuse.