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Historical Abuse Systemic Review: Residential Schools and Children's Homes in Scotland 1950 to 1995


Chapter 5: Records of residential schools and children's homes in Scotland

The review depended on the availability of records to fulfil the remit. In practice, however, many aspects of records - from their accessibility to their very existence - proved extremely challenging.

The remit itself yielded unexpected problems. Former residents told the review of the frustrations, surprises, shocks and disappointments involved in their search for records. The review's research showed that many laws were in force to govern records, but revealed that the practice of generating and keeping records was a different matter entirely. The review also found that record-keeping and the availability of records across all organisations and across Scotland has, and remains, very patchy indeed.

This chapter sets out:

1 Why records are important
2 The challenges the review faced in fulfilling the remit
3 Former residents' experiences of accessing records
4 The legal background to records
5 The review's search for information and what was found

Focusing on these main topics, I asked my researcher to undertake a study of records with the objective of contributing to a better understanding of the importance of children's residential establishment records and the need to ensure these are preserved and made accessible. Her report is included in full in appendix 3, which I consider a valuable contribution to the work of the review. This chapter draws on that report.

Many people made invaluable contributions to the review's search for records. Others shared highly personal experiences with us. My researcher and I are deeply grateful to all of them.

1. Why records are important

Learning from the past

The review's work, like that of any inquiry into the past, can't proceed without the existence of properly preserved records. Records are essential for society to gain an insight into, and learn from, people's experiences.

Records of children's residential services are an essential part of ensuring children's safety and well-being. They're also significant to people who lived in children's residential establishments - they're essential to their sense of identity.

Keeping children safe in residential care involves:

  • preventing problems from occurring;
  • monitoring how children are cared for and their well-being; and
  • responding to any issues and problems that may arise.

Current and past records are vital to all of these actions.

Preventative and monitoring approaches rely on suitably generated records, such as those created through assessments, reviews, incidents, complaints and inspection reports. Reactive approaches - often taking the form of investigations and inquiries - also rely on properly maintained records, past and present, to review current and past practices that may have been harmful to children.

Analysing the information held in records, inspections and inquiries can reveal what happened and what can be improved upon to ensure that people's experiences, and the lessons to be learned from these, aren't lost. In other words, records are extremely important for contributing to informed decision-making about keeping children safe and responding to claims of abuse.

They are essential, along with research, statistics and inspection, to the evaluation and development of policy and practice in children's residential services.

Records are crucially important to former residents

Former residents who inquire about their past are also responding to a basic human need to search for family and to better understand what happened during their childhood. They live in a society of people who grew up in family homes, knowing their siblings, parents and extended family. Their lack of such knowledge can make them feel isolated, so records can help them trace their own family connections and develop a common sense of belonging to a family.

The review found that records are important to former residents for reasons that are not always revealed or fully understood and acknowledged by people who work in organisations, local authorities and central government departments that hold records.

Former residents told the review that records about their lives and children's residential establishments have enormous significance to them for many reasons, including the following:

  • They valued not just information from their own records, but also general information about the places they lived in, the people involved in children's residential services and the social and historical context that establishments operated in.
  • For the many former residents unable to find their own records, general historical records may contain the only information that verifies their childhood experiences in a children's residential establishment.
  • Survivors of child institutional abuse, in particular, want to know how abuse was allowed to happen and depend on records to provide them with information about the circumstances surrounding their abuse.
  • Some former residents want their family members and descendants have access to records.
  • There is evidence to suggest that people involved in running residential establishments put little value on giving information to children, who were often silent and too afraid to ask about matters important to them or to express their concerns.
  • Former residents have huge gaps in what they know about their families. Many children were isolated from or had little contact with siblings, families and friends. There is also evidence to suggest that authorities placed restrictions on family members who tried to access children and that children weren't told about their family members' inquiries about them.
  • People who lack basic information about their lives can face difficulties in areas that others take for granted: getting passports, birth certificates and medical records; knowing their mother's maiden name.
  • Many of the former residents who contributed to the review reported that they had, and continue to have, no understanding about why they were placed in children's residential establishments away from their family. Some want to trace other family members, as they were often separated from siblings and parents at a young age and had no contact with family members while living away from their family home. Some said they'd never received information about their families while residing in children's residential establishments or the information was wrong.
  • Survivors of institutional child abuse place huge importance upon records for insights into their circumstances, for information to help with any legal proceedings they are involved in and for helping them to heal from the long-lasting effects of child abuse.
  • Records also ensure that former residents can realise their rights, specifically those under human rights, freedom of information and data protection laws.

Records are important to organisations

Maintaining accessible records is in the interest of all the organisations involved in providing, monitoring and regulating residential establishments. It enables them to maintain a corporate memory: when individuals with important knowledge and experience leave, that knowledge and experience doesn't leave with them.

Records are vital for public accountability. They make possible contemporary and historical analyses, investigations, monitoring and audits - internal and external. All of these hold organisations, local authorities and central government accountable for the quality of their services.

Records are important to social history

Records of children's residential services contribute to a better understanding of Scotland's social history; for example, the wider contribution to society made by people who lived in children's residential establishments.

However there is a lack of research about abuse in children's residential establishments. Records can help fill the research gap and add to a body of historical knowledge about childhood experiences. Social research can improve our understanding about what happened in children's residential establishments and give us information about what needs to change to improve the lives of children in residential care today.

2. The challenges faced in fulfilling the remit

The review's remit

Point four of the remit states that, in addition to the information that is publicly available, the independent expert would:

"(1) have access to all documentary records of the former Scottish Office in so far as in the possession of Scottish Ministers from the period under consideration and in so far as relating to residential schools and children's homes which will be subject to redaction 1 to ensure that no individual can be identified;

"(2) be expected to seek the co-operation of local authorities and other organisations with responsibility for the management and administration of residential schools and children's homes in making available to him such documentary records and explanation of such records as he considers to be necessary for his purposes."

The remit appears to presume that all relevant information would be found in the former Scottish Office records as well as information that's publicly available. It anticipates that local authorities, voluntary and religious organisations would hold information potentially useful to the review, and implies that this information is not publicly available.

There was no legal requirement for local authorities and organisations to help the review by granting access to information. However in the Scottish Parliament debate, held on 1 December 2004 on institutional child abuse, the Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, had encouraged organisations to open their files and it was within this spirit that many local authorities and organisations helped us.

It's worth highlighting that, during the debate, the Minister announced that the Scottish Executive Education Department was "working to open all files that are relevant". The difficulty of defining what was relevant became an important theme in the review's efforts to locate and gain access to records.

The challenges faced

The review sought to identify and locate records that were relevant to fulfilling my remit. In practice, this process was fraught with challenges:

  • How to find fundamental information? No information existed describing what regulatory framework was in existence between 1950 and 1995, which made the search for related policy, guidance and standards difficult. No central government database records the names of children's residential establishments, their location, dates of operation, their purpose or their management structures. No central database identifies what records are associated with children's residential services and where they are located.
  • How to define "residential school" and "children's home"? Many formal and informal terms were used to describe residential establishments where children lived without parental care, making it challenging to define these terms. The imprecise definitions, which altered in meaning throughout the review period, also affected the search for records.
  • A complex picture of services: The review's research found that residential services provided to children between 1950 and 1995 were extensive and extremely complex. Hundreds of children's residential establishments existed, with many places changing function, location and management at various times or closing down. Policies and guidance were extensive, complicated, changing and from many sources: central government, local government, voluntary and religious organisations. Other services were involved, for example. in areas such as health, psychology, the courts, churches and education. So it was impossible to identify all records that might have existed and related to children's residential services throughout the review period and with
    the resources available.
  • Which records should exist - and which do exist? No schedules exist of which records have been kept or disposed of. No laws required these types of schedules to be kept. Poor records management practices mean that records are missing, have been destroyed or weren't generated in the first place. We had to find out what records people thought existed in various locations, and distinguish these from records that actually did exist. Many records relating to one topic could have been made in different locations, such as a children's residential establishment and a social work department. Record-keeping varied immensely from establishment to establishment, within organisations and local authorities and at central government level. In the earlier years, in particular, the records that were made weren't always managed properly and archived.
  • What is a public record? The term "public record" has particular meaning under the Public (Scotland) Records 1937 Act. Disclosing records in public is also subject to the terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Data Protection Act 1998. These legal issues made it difficult for organisations and governments to comply with the proposed spirit of opening up their files and to grant the review unfettered access to all records relating to children's residential services.
  • Records aren't always open: Some potentially significant records in archives were closed. Voluntary, private and religious organisations had no legal obligation to give us access. There were also geographical problems: records are stored in various locations throughout Scotland and England. There were no clear, standardised access policies in all the locations where records were held. So the review had to learn about a multitude of access requirements in a multitude of locations.
  • What is "relevant"? The review had to identify records held by local authorities, organisations and central government and where they might be located, which was very time-consuming. But it was impossible to determine what was "relevant" without examining the records - an enormous task for the review, organisations and local authorities working with limited time, staff and funding. When the review asked for information, local authorities, organisations and central government needed to make their own individual and varying interpretations about what might be "relevant". And the issues of what and who decided what was relevant in the past have had major implications for what records have been kept.
  • Where are records kept? Records are kept in a vast number of locations throughout Scotland and England. Records relating to one establishment might be in several locations: central offices; local authority departments; regional, local, national or university archives; private storage facilities; museums and libraries. They've often been moved, for example when services close, or move, or management changes and for lack of storage space. When this happened the transfer wasn't tracked, making it difficult, if not impossible, to know where records were sent.
  • How many records are there? There are massive volumes of records about children's residential services due to the number of services and the years involved. Not all have been identified, located or archived. Some are at varying stages of discovery. Some were found in boxes in basements or other unidentified locations. It is apparent, however, that far more records exist than is currently known as many records have not been properly identified and put into records management systems for transfer to archives.
  • What type of records should be held? It was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for various organisations and local and central government to locate, identify and make accessible records specific to children's residential services without guiding criteria, such as a records retention schedule. (This is a system that makes clear what records must be retained and preserved.)
  • Attitudes to records varied: The review found that many people recognised the importance of records relating to children's residential services. However they were often constrained in their attempts to locate and preserve records due to lack of staff and funding, lack of value placed on such records, and legal concerns. The review also found negative attitudes and misunderstandings about the significance of records. Some people in key positions, such as senior managers, seemed to lack understanding about the significance of records, what records existed and where. Some senior people in local authorities, voluntary and religious organisations were guarded and even unwilling to help. The review also learned that senior people had ordered records to be destroyed.

3. Former residents' experiences

Former residents have rights associated with records. These include the legal entitlement to view records relating to their childhood experiences in residential placements. Poor records management in the past has meant that some former residents are unable to realise their legal entitlements to access records.

The review found that former residents had, and continued to have, difficulty in identifying, locating and accessing records. For example:

  • There is no central location in Scotland where people can ask for information and guidance about records - about their experiences, their family history and about children's residential establishments in general - and how to search for records.
  • Information may be held in several locations and in many types of records. Some records are unidentified; others are unknown.
  • Former residents may be prevented from getting access to records without agreeing to support services such as counselling from organisations and local authorities concerned about the possible effects that reading file contents may have on them.
  • Some former residents can't afford to travel to the locations where records are kept; others don't have access to computers or the computer literacy skills needed to find information online.
  • Some former residents found it hard to read photocopied records and incomplete information, where pages were missing or information blocked from view.

Once they gain access to their records, however, they are often disappointed or distressed by what they learn for the first time in their lives. Records often don't contain the information that former residents expect, or hope, to see.

The challenges faced by former residents contacting our review were consistent with those highlighted in other inquiries, such as those into child migration and institutional child abuse.

What records show in general

The information in records show how isolated some children became after they were placed in residential establishments. Many records reveal a dearth of information about family contact and relationships with outside professionals.

Many children died while living in children's residential establishments. Some organisations have identified the children in graveyards. But in other cases searches have yielded few records identifying children or information about why they died. The lack of information suggests that little importance was placed on the children's identity and their value to their extended families.

The review learned that individual records offer substantial insights into approaches to keeping children safe in residential placements and, in particular, monitoring practices relating to individual children. The review also identified that organisations, local authorities and central government need to understand how the legacy of poor practices in the past is reflected in the records of former residents.

What individuals' experiences revealed

Scant and incomplete information: A former resident of a children's home for 18 years was surprised by how little information his record showed. He had spent time in hospital and been medically examined, but his file contained no medical information. He felt the record had been doctored and did not reflect a complete picture of his stay at the home. He had been abused sexually and physically and felt that criminal acts had been covered up.

No family information: A former resident of a large children's home for 16 years only learned from reading her files many years later that she had a twin brother and three cousins, all of whom had stayed at the same home. She is haunted by the screams of a girl who was beaten, and whom she only learned years later had been her cousin. She was not told that her father was contributing weekly to her upkeep and only found out years later that her mother was still alive and had an extended family.

Inability to find information: A man who had been placed in an approved school has spent almost five years trying to find records to tell him why he had to spend three years at the school. He feels the social work department, school, religious organisation and educational authorities all should have records. Despite writing several letters he has not located any records that verify he was at the approved school, or any information about that part of his childhood. Another former resident of a children's home has spent almost a decade writing to and telephoning local authorities, social work departments and a religious organisation and has found no record about him and no information about his childhood experiences in the home.

Conflicting information: A woman who had lived as a young child with her brother and sister in a children's home was told her records had been lost in a fire. But her brother received records from the organisations responsible for the home. His records included personal information about her. She later visited the organisation - with her sister, who also sought information - and learned that records did indeed exist about her. But information she expected to find was wrong or absent. Information in the records for her, her sister and brother conflicted.

Suspicion: Some former residents found it difficult to return to the organisation responsible for running the establishment they had lived in. Some felt that organisations and local authorities treated information about them as belonging to the institution. Others felt that local authorities put up barriers, such as insisting that social workers should see their records first and sit with them while they reviewed the records. Others suspected that organisations would remove information from records that might damage the organisation.

Disappointment: Some former residents were disappointed at the poor quality of record-keeping, inaccuracy and missing pages. Some found their names had been changed, their family names were spelled incorrectly and dates of birth were altered.

Improvements that former residents feel should be made

The following are steps that former residents feel would benefit people trying to find and access records. It was compiled by an organisation that represents former residents of children's establishments.

  • Information should be provided within 40 days, in line with the Data Protection Act 1998. All care institutions and organisations should comply with the law.
  • The entire process, including any costs, should be fully explained in writing when someone first makes contact with the former care home, organisation or local authority.
  • Finding information about yourself for the first time in your life can be traumatic. So former residents should be offered independent help, such as counselling.

4. The legal background

Records associated with children's residential services allow insights into how these services were provided and, more specifically, how abuse was allowed to happen. The review's search for records included finding out what the law said about generating and maintaining records since 1950. The answers suggest that important legal issues are associated with records - issues that must be addressed to ensure that records for children's residential services are preserved and made accessible in the future.

The regulatory framework for children's residential services shows how children's residential establishments needed to generate more records in later years. At the same time, this regulatory framework doesn't take account of all the records generated in association with children's residential services. From 1950 to 1995, the law specified what records needed to be generated within approved schools, children's homes, residential placements for children with what at the time was called "mental disorders" and remand homes, for example. The law outlined managers' and the Secretary of State's duties and powers relating to records. It imposed a responsibility for overseeing - through records - the welfare of individual children and children's residential establishments.

Regulating records for children's residential services was, and remains, an extremely complex undertaking. Many organisations have generated, and continue to generate, records. They include: individual children's residential establishments, local authorities, voluntary organisations, religious organisations, professional bodies, the children's hearing system, justice, education and health care systems, inspection agencies and central government.

The review has identified comprehensive sets of laws, rules and regulations covering the generation of records for children's residential establishments. Local authorities, voluntary organisations, religious organisations, central government and those who provided services were responsible for complying with the legislation. Later in this chapter their response to the law is considered.

Laws on generating records 1950-68:

A series of laws stipulated what records had to be generated by:

  • approved schools;
  • children's homes;
  • voluntary homes;
  • homes for children with mental disabilities; and
  • remand homes.

Each law had specific requirements but in general they required information such as:

  • records of all children admitted and discharged;
  • individual records of children;
  • log books containing details such as visits, inspections, punishments and any other events that the law said "deserve to be recorded" or were considered important;
  • a register of children attending schools;
  • personal histories with details such as medical histories, why the child was admitted to a home, visits by parents, relatives and friends;
  • letters from parents and guardians to be placed in individual files;
  • records of food - with enough detail to judge whether the diet was satisfactory
  • a note of every time a pupil absconds.

The laws were as follows:

  • The Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Care and Training Regulations 1933.
  • The Approved Schools (Scotland) Rules 1961.
  • The Administration of Children's Homes (Scotland) Regulations 1959.
  • The Voluntary Homes (Return of Particulars) (Scotland) Regulations 1952.
  • The National Assistance Act 1948
  • The Remand Home (Scotland) Rules 1946

Laws on generating records 1969-95:

Further laws were introduced in this period, applying to residential establishments and secure accommodation. Again, each had specific requirements but in general covered details such as:

  • procedures used to select children to be admitted;
  • details of children admitted to and leaving an establishment;
  • procedures for access to records for staff, children and parents;
  • records on any involvement of children and parents in decisions about a child's welfare while living in the establishment;
  • records, including health details, for every child resident; and
  • a log book detailing important and official events and other details including disciplinary measures.

The laws were:

  • The Social Work (Residential Establishments - Child Care) (Scotland) Regulations 1987
  • The Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 1983
  • The Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1988
  • The Residential Care Order (Secure Accommodation) (Scotland) Regulations 1988

Laws on generating records after 1995:

The Children's (Scotland) Act 1995 Regulations and Guidance contains specific and very detailed requirements for the information that children's residential establishments, including secure accommodation, must record. The legal provisions they contain cover aspects of life within establishments, personal records and requirements specific to records in secure accommodation. The provisions were, therefore, more expansive, suggesting a growing reliance on records as a method for monitoring and improving services to children.

Other laws introduced in this period include the Arrangements to Look After Children (Scotland) Regulations 1996, the Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 1996 and the Residential Establishments - Child Care (Scotland) Regulations 1996. These also provided for detailed requirements on record-keeping, and the latter emphasised the need for local authorities to establish written case records for children in their care. These records must be kept until the 75th birthday of the person it relates to or, if a child dies before reaching the age of 18, for 25 years from the date of death.

How were records kept and how accessible are they?

Although thousands of records about children's residential services were generated between 1950 and 1995, the law has not been as effective in ensuring these were kept and made accessible. It has been extremely difficult for former residents, others - and for the review - to identify and locate significant historical records.

Overview of the laws in place

The Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937 is the main law in place during the period of our review for ensuring preservation of, and access to, public records. It still applies, in amended form. It was introduced to make "better provision for the preservation, care and custody of the Public Records of Scotland". However it was mainly concerned with providing for the transfer of court records to the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, who heads the National Archives of Scotland. It's worth noting that the Act allows for local authorities and other bodies to transfer their records to the Keeper but does not require them to do so.

Several other laws have a bearing on public records. These include:

  • The Disposal or Records (Scotland) Regulations 1992 (and an amendment of these in 2003)
  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002
  • The Data Protection Act 1998
  • The Human Rights Act 1998

In addition, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 included requirements that affected records. One section governed the transfer of records from the local authorities that were replaced by Scotland's nine regional councils in 1973. It stated that the new regional councils had to make "proper arrangements" for their records. This was repealed by the Environment Act 1995.

When local authorities were reorganised in the mid 1990s, the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994 provided for the transfer of records from the old to the new councils. It said councils "should" make "proper arrangements" to preserve and manage any records transferred to them under the Act, but didn't require them to do so. It also allowed local authorities to dispose of any records they did not consider "worthy of preservation".

How effective are these laws?

Scotland's laws on records don't do enough to ensure that records relating to children's residential services are preserved and that people have access to them.

The Public Records Act 1937 is very limited in its scope and outdated. Despite its name, it doesn't define "public records", so it can be difficult to understand the distinction between public and private records. This has serious implications for people responsible for preserving records and for people who entitled to have access to records.

Finding out who owns records can be challenging, especially where private organisations were contracted to provide public services.

The 1937 Act applies to courts, government departments and agencies and the NHS. But it doesn't apply to other public bodies - such as local authorities, NHS trusts and universities - or to voluntary and religious organisations. Nor does it specify how records generated by private bodies receiving public funding must be preserved and made accessible.

There is a clear need to reform the Public Records Act 1937 in Scotland.

The review has noted that local authorities must make "proper arrangements" for preserving and managing records. But this requirement is not defined and there are no sanctions to enforce it. In practice, local authorities have handed records over to the Keeper of the Records of Scotland voluntarily and by custom.

The absence of adequate public records legislation means that local authorities aren't consistent in how they deal with archives or manage records. Many have archives, but archivists complain of lack of funding and of little value being placed on their work. There is no guidance on how to identify and keep records and when it's acceptable to destroy records.

There have been significant attempts within the past decade to improve the weaknesses in laws relating to archives and archiving. These include:

The Archival Mapping Project (1999): This built a national picture of the state of archives in Scotland in both public and private organisations and concluded there was a need for significant improvements in areas that included funding, staffing and purpose-built buildings to house archives in Scotland's major cities.

The Public Records Strategy (2003-04): This was a review, by the former Scottish Executive, of laws, guidance, standards and practices relating to Scottish public records and archives. It followed the introduction of freedom of information and data protection laws.

The Code of Practice on Records Management (2003): The code provides guidance to all public authorities for practice in keeping, managing and disposing of records.

Many barriers still exist that prevent people getting access to records they're legally entitled to view. The review noted many of these barriers earlier in this chapter. During the review's investigation it was learned that access policies vary hugely. Some local authorities and organisations have no access policy in place. Other organisations have individual policies in place. Former residents told the review they found these inconsistencies confusing.

The review found evidence of records that exist, but aren't accessible because they're not being managed properly or haven't been archived. Local authorities, in particular, have records in a myriad of locations and many records that haven't been archived. Some use private storage companies to store records. They don't always know what records are being stored, making these records inaccessible.

Former residents feel that the state and other organisations responsible for children's residential establishments have a duty to care to them as adults, particularly adults who were abused as children in a children's residential establishment. They feel this duty includes making it possible to establish historical accounts and learn about what happened in children's residential establishments.

5. The review's search for information

The challenges faced in searching for records

Major local government reorganisations and changes to children's services legislation in 1968 occurred during the period 1950 to 1995. These would have had an impact on the generation and preservation of records associated, directly or indirectly, with central government as well as local authorities and organisations. The reporting and policy relationship between organisations and central government would have changed throughout the years, with significant implications for records. The absence of appropriate records legislation would also have affected how records were preserved.

The review's search for information was affected by people's knowledge of what records existed. In some cases individuals knew what records were held, where they were and what they contained. But in others, individuals who knew this information had retired or were dead. In the time available to the review, it was extremely challenging for the review team- and the many people who helped - to locate records.

Adding to the difficulty was the assumption contained in the remit that:

  • all the organisations the review sought records from had located and identified "relevant" records;
  • these records were immediately accessible; and
  • the review could review them thoroughly.

The reality was that records containing information about children's residential services are in multiple locations and in massive volume throughout Scotland and England. No central database identifies where these records are, which made it extremely difficult for the review, local authorities and organisations to identify what records existed and where they were.

Voluntary organisations, religious organisations and local authorities found it difficult, and at times impossible, to respond to our queries about past management policies and practices, including policies that relate to monitoring children's well-being and keeping children safe.

Obtaining relevant information was a major undertaking for local authorities and organisations, requiring expense and staff. Deciding what information was "relevant" to the review was difficult, if not impossible, for organisations and local authorities without viewing all the records available.

The poor overall state of records raises important issues about how voluntary organisations, religious organisations and local authorities that provided children's residential services are held accountable to children, former residents and others, for the services they provided.

The search for government records

The review began the search by identifying the most obvious places, such as the Scottish Executive Education Department, National Archives of Scotland, voluntary organisations, religious organisations and local authorities. The education department had begun searching for records on residential schools and children's homes before the review began its work, and had drawn up a list of records. The review later found that many other records relevant to its work were not on this list, which made the work more complex than anticipated. Some records also had to be reviewed by education department officials before they could be given to the review, which also made the research more time-consuming.

Other challenges included the quality of records. Government records tended to be about policies and inspections, not about individuals. The title of records could give little indication of the information they contained. Records reflected what might have appeared important when they were written, but rarely contained information that people seek now. However in many of the records we reviewed we found information relevant to our understanding of children's residential services.

Overall, the review found that the education department and National Archives of Scotland records contain considerable information that is potentially relevant to its work. But lack of time and available resources made it impossible to examine those records thoroughly. The content of the report of the review is limited by these factors.

Before the education department's records became available to us, the Scottish Information Commissioner had examined the department's process of gathering records relating to historical abuse in residential schools and children's homes. The Commissioner's report identified many issues that arose for this review.

The search for local authority, voluntary and religious organisation records

The review's information-gathering process shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is without records to gain insights into how systems contributed to children's abuse in residential establishments. In general, our search for information revealed that local authorities, voluntary organisations and religious organisations all faced similar challenges when trying to locate records, making it difficult to gain access to records.

We learned, for example, that management records relating to the same topic may be in many locations. Records might be absent in one location. But this didn't mean that they, or records relating to the same topic, didn't exist.

When children left residential placements, various unregulated approaches guided what happened to children's records.

Complicating this, there might be several children's records for one child, depending on what services were involved. Any or all of the following could have held children's records: residential establishments; local authority social work or children's departments; education authorities; health boards and voluntary or religious organisations. Records relating to children placed outwith their own local authorities could have been returned to the child's originating authority and dispersed to central offices. It's not clear what happened to the records of Scottish children placed in children's residential establishments in England.

What we did

The review circulated a questionnaire to 32 local authorities and 11 voluntary and religious organisations. Letters were written and interviews carried out. A survey was also sent to all local authority archivists to find out what records they held about children's residential services.

The questionnaire sought details such as what kind of services were provided, how they were monitored and inspected, what records, policies and guidelines were held and what these covered. The questionnaire also asked for basic details such as when residential establishments opened, where they were, how many children attended, the current status or when they closed.

What was found: voluntary organisations

The review had little information about what voluntary organisations provided residential services to children between 1950 and 1995. Six organisations were contacted, but the review may not have identified all voluntary organisations responsible for children's residential establishments during the period of the review.

Most of those contacted found it difficult to locate significant information about the establishments. Many have undergone changes - for example reorganisation or relocation - that affected their record-keeping practices. Records are in locations across Scotland and England. Some are more advanced than others in managing their records and archives; some employed archivists and others didn't. Other challenges included:

  • lack of staff and time;
  • inability to search documents by type;
  • difficulty in deciding what was "relevant" information;
  • poor filing;
  • log books of limited value because their content was uninformative;
  • no system for recording complaints, so none was recorded; and
  • records held in multiple locations.

All voluntary organisations found it challenging to find out what management policies and practices might have existed for their children's residential services between 1950 and 1995. In general, records specific to children's residential services were difficult to locate, or didn't exist.

What was found: religious organisations

The review began with little information about the religious organisations that provided children's residential services between 1950 and 1995. It was also extremely difficult to identify which organisations had been responsible for children's establishments and should, therefore, have records.

The review contacted 16 organisations. Some said they had provided children's residential services and others said they hadn't. The extent to which they were involved in children's residential services varied, which made it difficult to identify, locate and access records specific to children's residential establishments.

Some organisations had specific, detailed information about what services they had managed but others had little or no information. Many didn't know where information might be located, or what information might exist. Many have large numbers of records throughout the UK that deal with services to children and adults.

Staff had moved on, offices had changed down the years, so it was often unclear what had happened to records. When some schools closed there was no policy on what to do with records, which then went missing. One organisation had a policy of destroying records after seven years. Labelling was inconsistent and some records were in boxes, on shelves and unsorted. Other challenges included:

  • records held in several locations;
  • records specific to Scotland integrated with records for projects in England;
  • haphazard historic record-keeping; and
  • the effect of fires and floods.

In one case the review's requests for information were dealt with solicitors, who said their client was under no obligation to give any access to archives.

The contents of records that organisations said they held varied widely. Some said they held general management records, files, registers and log books, but no policy and practice guidelines. Others said that formal processes existed in areas such as inspections, management reports and complaints, but were unable to find out if there were policies in areas such as recruitment and training, child protection, whistleblowing, formal complaints, bullying, grievances, incident reports, advocacy support records and information management and inspections.

Different information was held for different time periods, even more recent times. For example, one organisation said it had records for 1970-1985, but that these were no longer accessible. Another didn't know if it had specific policy and practice guidelines for the period 1986-1995.

What was found: local authorities

Of the 32 questionnaires the review sent to local authorities 15 were returned. Eleven other authorities replied, four didn't respond and two others had provided no children's residential establishments. Some contacted the review to discuss how to approach the task given the difficulties they faced. Others adopted an approach that best suited their circumstances.

During the time of the review local government had experienced two major reorganisations. The impact can be seen in one current local authority. Between 1975-96 it had existed entirely within the boundary of a larger regional authority. Before 1975 the area it covers today was covered by three county councils. But only part of the old county councils' areas are within the current council's boundaries.

In their responses, some local authorities speculated that they had few records available. Other representatives made considerable efforts to find records. One individual went as far as contacting retired colleagues and went to homes for older people to find out if anyone could recall children's homes in the area. Two local authorities employed retired social workers to report on children's residential establishments run by former corporations and regional councils. One researcher found valuable information about monitoring practices by carefully scrutinising council minutes.

The review found that the relationship between local authority departments and archives was uneven. Some employees within departments worked closely with their local authority archivists. Others either didn't contact their archivist to assist with locating records or actively resisted getting the archivist involved.

As noted earlier, there is no central government database of children's residential establishments in Scotland between 1950 and 1995. Children's establishments changed function, management and even location. Many local authorities didn't know what had happened to management records and children's files when children's residential establishments closed, so it was difficult for them to identify what places had existed.

Like voluntary and religious organisations, the local authorities faced enormous challenges in their attempts to locate records that might be relevant to the review. These included:

  • large volumes of records located in many locations;
  • confusion about where records were sent during local government reorganisations and what records exist;
  • records buried among other records because there was - and is - no system for cataloguing records; and
  • no consistent processes for managing records among local authorities.

Early in the review's information-gathering work, a professional association questioned the review's remit and process of gathering information. This led to misinformation circulating about the review. As a result, some local authorities that had been willing to help decided not to continue with their search for information. It is difficult to know how much this episode affected the local authorities' co-operation in working with the review.

Most local authorities said they didn't know if they had records for the period 1950-1969. No local authority had inspection reports for children's residential services or their own departments for this period. Some had records for the period 1970-85. Again, none had inspection reports for children's residential services or their own departments for this period.

For the most recent period, 1986-1995, most local authorities said they had records for children's residential services, although a few said they had no records or didn't know if they had records. Some had records that were no longer accessible.

The review's survey of archivists revealed a mixed picture of problems and gaps that affect the availability and quality of records available now and in the future. Their responses included the following:

  • One archive holds no records specific to children's residential establishments and attempts to find the information from council departments failed.
  • An archivist was instructed to destroy all senior management team records in 2004.
  • All records after 1996 are on recycled paper, which is unlikely to survive in the long term.
  • One council appointed its first professional archivist in 1986.
  • Archives are only partially listed and it's not possible to identify archives that relate to children's residential establishments.
  • Not all local authorities have records managers or record management systems. In some, individual departments manage and store their own records. In others more than one system is in place.


The lessons of this review point to an urgent need to take action to preserve historical records, ensure that residents can get access to records and information about their location.

1. The government should commission a review of public records legislation which should lead to new legislation being drafted to meet records and information needs in Scotland. This should also make certain that no legislation impedes people's lawful access to records. This review's objectives should address the need for permanent preservation of significant records held by private, non-statutory agencies that provide publicly funded services to children.

2. All local authorities and publicly funded organisations with responsibility for past and present children's services should undertake to use the Section 61 Code of Practice on Records Management issued on behalf of Scottish Ministers and in consultation with the Scottish Information Commissioner and the Keeper of the Records of Scotland under the terms of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002 2.

3. Training in professional records management practice and procedures should be available to all organisations and local authorities providing children's services. This might be provided by NAS or the Scottish Information Commissioner.

4. The government should invite NAS to establish a national records working group to address issues specific to children's historical residential services records. Appendix 4 of the report contains suggested representation and terms of reference.

5. Voluntary organisations, religious organisations and local authorities, working in partnership, should commission guidance to ensure that their children's residential services records are adequately catalogued to make records readily accessible.

6. Record management practices should be evaluated regularly where records associated with children's residential establishments are held, particularly records associated with monitoring children's welfare and safety. It is recommended that the Care Commission should consider taking responsibility for this.