Call For ‘Truth And Reconciliation’ Body To Resolve Child Abuse Cases

Leading child welfare advocates have called for a “truth and reconciliation commission” to address historic cases of abuse against children in care.

The issue of historic abuse in residential care settings in Scotland was addressed in a report published last month by the Scottish Government.

Among the recommendations by author Tom Shaw, a former education chief inspector in Northern Ireland, was for the establishment of a support centre for former residents of care homes run by councils, charities and churches.

The centre would help those who had been in care find out about their upbringing and provide counselling and mediation if necessary.

Now children’s advocates and organisations are urging the government to act on this advice, with the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission apparently gaining increasing support.

Lord Clyde, Professor Kathleen Marshall, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, and Bronwen Cohen, director of Children in Scotland, have jointly written to Children’s Minister Adam Ingram and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to ask for such a body.

The “truth and reconciliation” idea was pioneered in the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa. However, variations of the approach have since been used in several countries to address historic allegations of child sexual abuse.

Under such a system, those who allege abuse might concede the right to seek compensation in return for the chance to have their experiences acknowledged and recorded, along with a possible apology.

The Shaw report said: “Those who experienced abuse in the past need to know that society supports them in speaking out and that their experiences, however distressing, are recognised and addressed.”

Professor Marshall told The Herald: “It is important that we, as a society, acknowledge the hurt experienced by former residents of child care establishments.

“I believe there is merit in both the centre suggested by Tom Shaw’s report and the suggestion of a truth and reconciliation’ approach.”

Supporters of the concept believe it might help those who still provide residential care to learn from past failings and provide an alternative to the adversarial court system.

Elizabeth McWilliams, who was a victim of abuse while living in the Quarrier’s Village, in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, contributed her experiences to the report. She said the experience had been cathartic and added of its author: “He was acknowledging that what he heard was true. That was a tremendous help to me.”

She added a commission would help address the deep sense of being wronged still felt by many former residents of children’s homes and communities. “We weren’t listened to as children, and we haven’t been listened to as adults.”

A government spokeswoman said ministers were still considering the Shaw report’s recommendations.