Barnardo’s children’s home care not good enough, admits former boss

A former senior boss at Barnardo’s in Scotland has admitted some of the organisation’s previous practices for children in residential care were “not good enough”.

Speaking at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, Alan Swift claimed differences between what is expected now compared with the 1980s and 1990s made him take a “second breath”.

The former assistant divisional director spoke of staff being left alone with children overnight and people without relevant qualifications being employed, while training was “patchy”.

He claimed financial pressures and working conditions made it difficult to attract better candidates to their residential premises – South Oswald Road in Edinburgh and Craigerne in the Scottish Borders.

Both establishments, which looked after children with complex needs and were overseen by Mr Swift, are being investigated as part of the latest phase of the inquiry.

James Peoples QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, questioned whether the organisation “took what you could get, rather than suitable candidates”.

He went on to ask “why on earth” they employed staff without qualifications to look after the children.

Mr Swift, who was in the role between 1984 and 1997, said: “There’s no justification, that’s just what we did.”

It was heard children could be forced by staff to lie face-down and straddled, as a means of restraint.

Mr Swift agreed with judge Lady Smith, chairwoman of the inquiry, that such techniques may have been “terrifying” for the children.

Mr Swift added: “Hand on heart, I was never comfortable with any concept of a child being restrained.

“I suppose I felt – as a human being – it’s unfortunate we have to do this.”

He claimed that throughout his 13 years with the organisation, he was never made aware of any abuse suffered by children in Barnardo’s residential care.

Mr Swift, now aged in his early 70s, added: “We didn’t have a properly functioning complaints procedure. I can see straight away that’s a gap.”

Questions were also raised about why only one member of staff would be awake on shift overnight.

Mr Peoples suggest there was an “inherent risk that something might happen during that time that shouldn’t happen”.

Mr Swift said: “That’s another hole, it’s pretty obvious now.”

The witness was then asked to reflect on “why the system failed” some children in residential care with the organisation.

He said: “When I was employed by Barnardo’s, my general sense of the organisation was an organisation that was trying its level best to provide services.

“It’s clear that some of that provision was inadequate.

“I do believe that some practices would be of its time, that was the way it was then – that’s what we considered good enough.

“It’s clear from current knowledge that it was not good enough.”

But Mr Peoples replied by saying these problems were “quite obvious holes and gaps”, adding more recent care improvements were “not like the discovery of DNA”.

The inquiry in Edinburgh continues on Thursday.

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