Children In Care: Report Calls For Scottish Force

A national task group” should be created in Scotland to oversee services for children in care and those living in residential homes, a groundbreaking report said today.

{mosimage}A centre should also be set up to help former victims of abuse in children’s homes, The recommendations came in an report ordered by the Scottish Executive into long-standing abuse in children’s homes across Scotland.

The report by Tom Shaw, former chief inspector of education in Northern Ireland, focused on the the period from 1950 to 1995, the child welfare regulations in place over that period, and how these were enforced.

His findings said that despite extensive and complex regulation, “the requirements weren’t wholly effective in ensuring children’s safety and welfare”. And Mr Shaw warned that problems still exist – 12 years on from 1995, with modern legislation and improved monitoring and inspection.

“In some respects you could say that everything that was identified as needing to be done in 1995 is now in place,” he said.

“And yet, the same problems are occurring, the same needs exist, and the same concerns that motivated government to legislate in 1995 still exist.”

The centre proposed by his report would help former victims find counselling and other services, would carry out research into children’s residential homes, and would maintain a database of all past and present children’s residential establishments in Scotland.

The national task group should have “oversight” of services provided for children in care and in accommodation, should study ways of improving their welfare, and should report to Holyrood’s Education Committee.

It should report annually on progress, audit the recommendations of previous reviews and inquires to see what action is outstanding.

Mr Shaw’s review also highlighted an “urgent” need for action to preserve old records and ensure former residents can get access to them.

“The government should commission a review of public records legislation which would lead to new legislation being drafted to meet records and information needs in Scotland,” said the report.

“This should also make certain that no legislation impedes people’s lawful access to records.”

Today’s report dates back to a Holyrood debate in 2004 in which the then First Minister, Jack McConnell, publicly apologised for children who were abused while in care.

The Executive had already ruled out an inquiry into allegations of abuse in Scotland’s residential homes dating back to the 1940s.
… the same problems are occurring, the same needs exist
Tom Shaw

But Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee insisted the scandal warranted a debate in Parliament.

Mr McConnell’s apology came during that debate, in which his administration also pledged to shed more light on “the national shame” of the historic abuse of children in care homes.

This led to the appointment in 2005 of Mr Shaw who set out to review records and speak to individuals – but not to investigate individual cases.

His report warns action imposing 21st century views on what happened in the past, and notes that attitudes to children have changes, with legal acknowledgement of children’s rights only taking full effect within the last ten years.

Attitudes to punishment have been “inconsistent”, and although abuse was known about during the study period, public awareness did not develop until the 1980s.

“Throughout the period there was a lack of qualified care staff, perhaps a symptom of the low status given to residential child care,” he said.

Regulations were in place, but it was only towards the end of the study period that children’s rights began to be acknowledged.

For the first half of the review period, laws did not ensure that residential care services responded sufficiently to the needs of the children.

“It allowed some children to be placed in residential establishments inappropriate to their needs,” said the report.

And despite changes to the law in the 1960s and 1970s, it was only towards the end of the period that the needs of children places in homes were met “appropriately”.

The law responded only slowly to growing awareness of the abuse of children, and corporal punishment was allowed in some residential establishments until the 1980s.

The law did not insist that residential care staff should be suitably qualified, and there was no national vetting system or national care standards.

Mr Shaw’s report said the task of identifying how residential school and children’s homes were monitored in practice – as distinct from what the law said should be done – proved “very difficult”.

Records were scattered across organisations and archives, some were destroyed, and some potentially useful information was destroyed as new practices were introduced.

“Finding even basic information often proved challenging and time-consuming,” said the report.

“No central government databases exist of children’s residential establishments in Scotland between 1950 and 1995, or which organisations were involved in providing these services – let alone what records are associated with which services and where these might be.

“Hundreds of children’s residential services existed in Scotland and across the review period they changed function, location, management or closed down.”

Many records existed which could add to an understanding of residential child care in the past, and these should be assembled, catalogued and made available for research and investigation.

But Mr Shaw’s report admits that the findings are unlikely to go as far as some former abuse victims would wish.

The introduction to the report says there had been “high expectations” about what the review could deliver and “strong views” as to what it should focus on.

“I’ve received some expressions of dissatisfaction from former residents about the terms of the remit,” he said.

“I and my researcher had have to explain many times to people inquiring about the review that our work is determined by the remit and that the focus is on systems, not individuals or on individual institutions or organisations,” he said.

Children’s minister Adam Ingram said the report shed light on the failings of systems which should have protected children.

“We are in full agreement with the principles of the findings and recommendations but we must consider with partners and survivors how we can most effectively take forward the lessons to be learned,” he said.

“This is a far reaching report and it is right that we give detailed and serious consideration to all the issues covered.”

The minister went on: “We are already working with our partners to improve outcomes for all looked after young people and those leaving care.

“In the light of this review, I will be looking at how we can learn the lessons of the past and build on progress to raise the standard of residential care for children.

“We will work with partners to bring forward specific proposals, from developing the workforce to ensuring high-quality services, to address the issues raised.”

There would also be specific proposals for those formerly in residential care as part of a wider strategy for people who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, he said.