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


Chapter 6: Former residents' experiences

The purpose of this chapter is to show how the law worked in the experiences of some former residents of residential schools and children's homes. The information is drawn from written responses which a number of former residents made in answer to questions posed by the review and has been compiled by my researchers.

These responses, while clearly not a representative sample of all former residents' experiences, give insight into life in some residential schools and children's homes in the first part of the review period.

This chapter is in four parts:

  • Part 1 considers abuse in a human rights and international context.
  • Part 2 is a collection of extracts from people's childhood memories as told to the review. The extracts have been chosen because they relate to how the law worked in the experience of these former residents. A note of the developments which former residents would like to see is also included. The opinions expressed are those of the people who responded to the review and not necessarily those of the review itself. While Part 2 may not be strictly within the remit of the review, I believe it is helpful to our understanding of how the law was implemented in some places in the early years of the review period. It also prompted the preparation of Part 3 of this chapter.
  • Part 3 presents - from a former resident's perspective - what rights he or she should have expected to receive under the various laws, rules and regulations that governed residential schools and children's homes.
  • Part 4 is the review's conclusions.

"I felt like a non-person. I lived in a crazy world."

These words belong to an individual who lived for 16 years in a children's home in Scotland after she was placed there as a small child. Thousands of children lived in children's residential establishments throughout Scotland from 1950 to 1995. Today, they describe their experiences as ranging from the very good to the horrific. There is little written information, however, about children's experiences in children's residential establishments from the perspective of the children who lived through those experiences years ago.

The review acknowledges, in this report, that some former residents of children's residential establishments recall positive experiences and others had mixed experiences or painful memories that have remained throughout their lives.

Part 1. Abuse in a human rights and international context

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)

In the mid 20th century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) emerged as the pre-eminent international human rights instrument. It was supported by such treaties as the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in 1950 by the European Council, which had convened in 1948 following the Second World War. Both of these instruments developed in response to the horrific experiences of individuals placed in institutions, for example, during the Second World War. "Human rights" are defined as those rights marked by certain characteristics: they can't be waived or denied, they impose obligations, they are universal and they "focus on the inherent dignity and equal worth of all human beings" (Office of the UN High Commission on Human Rights, 2006: 8).

"Human rights are universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms, entitlements and human dignity." (Office of the UN High Commission on Human Rights, 2006: 8)

Ignatieff (2000:2) suggests that, by working "their way deep inside our psyches", human rights go beyond legal instruments to situate themselves as "…expressions of our moral identity as a people." When former residents lived in children's residential establishments they had human rights entitlements, along with legal entitlements, to be protected from harm and to be treated with dignity.

People throughout the world have been disclosing incidents of abuse they experienced as children while living in residential institutions 1. The continued abuse of children worldwide, in all circumstances, is the focus of The United Nations World Report on Violence against Children 2, presented in October 2007. This referred in particular to children in institutions providing care and associated with justice:

"Although these institutions are established to provide care, guidance, support and protection to children, the boys and girls who live in them may be at heightened risk of violence compared to children whose care and protection is governed by parents and teachers, at home and at school" 3.

The definition of violence in the report is from Article 19 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, prohibiting "...all forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse" 4. The definition is also informed by the World Report on Violence and Health (2002) as:

"…the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a child, by an individual or a group, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity" 5.

Survivors of institutional child abuse claim that what happened to them meets the UN definition of violence against children, constituting a violation of their human rights as children. Many survivors also say that as children they often didn't speak about their abuse or, if they did, they weren't believed and were punished. Survivors also have reported that they weren't able to talk about their abuse until they were older adults. In today's world, it's not uncommon for children to remain silent about the abuse they are suffering. In referring to the stigmatisation, the isolation and the de-socialisation that occurs when children reside in institutions, the UN report suggests that these factors make children more vulnerable to further violence and sometimes perpetrators as well 6.

All countries investigating child abuse within institutions begin from a place where the extent
of child abuse is unknown. In recognition, various countries have put in place processes that make it possible to hear directly from people about their experiences as children abused within state-supported residential establishments. In Ireland, for example,
the government passed legislation 7 that launched a commission of inquiry into child abuse in institutions. This process includes hearing directly from people who lived as children in state-funded institutions. Since 1999 several inquiries into institutional child abuse in Australia 8 have also heard evidence from people who experienced abuse as children living
in institutions.

In Canada, a national Law Commission conducted extensive research into government responses to allegations of child abuse within institutions 9, consulting with survivors of childhood abuse about their needs and advising governments on how best to address those needs.

Most recently, the Canadian federal government announced a residential school settlement arising from claims of child abuse within residential schools where aboriginal people were placed 10. Linked to this, the government is establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission 11 whose primary purpose is "…to contribute to truth, healing and reconciliation" 12 of aboriginal people abused as children in residential placements. It is intended to "…provide a holistic, culturally appropriate and safe setting…" for people who lived in residential schools to talk about their experiences.

Children were sent to live in many kinds of institutions in Scotland throughout the period under review. By listening to their experiences, much can be learned about what happened to children living in those institutions. In speaking for themselves, former residents also speak for those many children, now adults, who can't speak for themselves. Children with disabilities, for example, were sometimes placed in adult institutions such as mental health institutions and hospitals, and their voices may be among the most silent. As it is often said that societies are measured on the basis of how they treat their most vulnerable, we have a responsibility to seek ways to ensure all voices are heard, including those children who lack the skills so necessary to claiming their entitlements.

Former residents contributed to the review in various ways, through interviews, meetings, site visits, telephone conversations, letters and emails. The adults who contacted the review lived in children's residential establishments between the 1940s and the 1970s; no-one contacted the review who had lived in children's residential establishments during the 1980s or 1990s. Today, the people who provided information to the review live in Scotland and throughout the world, in places as far apart as England, Canada, the USA and Hong Kong.

The review would like to express its gratitude and appreciation to those many individuals who shared their experiences as it was extremely painful for all to recount what happened to them as children. Many people, however, said their reason for speaking was to contribute to an accurate historical account of what happened, to seek apologies for what happened and to make certain that children who live in state care today are safe and cared for.

Part 2. What children remember about life in residential establishments: 1950-1995

The following information represents written responses received from former residents to a series of questions posed by the review. The information doesn't represent all information received by the review. This chapter highlights, therefore, some of the experiences described by former residents. It sheds light on the necessity for implementation to match legislation in spirit and letter.

Did you know the reason for your placement in a residential home while you lived there?

No, I did not know.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

No, and I still don't know.
Former resident, approved school, 1955-1957

Yes, mother had tuberculosis and died. My father had disappeared.
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

Yes, my father was killed in WWII and my mother had tuberculosis so she was hospitalised for one year.
Former resident, children's home, 1954-55

The only thing I was told was that I was unwanted, unloved and a child from the gutter… I later found out (as an adult) that there were indications in records available that my father was contributing to my keep and I was 12 before I found out that I had a brother (my twin).
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

In my 15.5 years at the [children's home] I was told matter-of-factly that I was a bastard and that I should be more than grateful for what I had and that was the sole purpose of my being there. Never, at any time did anyone explain to me how or why I was brought to the [children's home].
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Did you have any family contact or contact with outside friends while you lived at the residential home?

No, I did not know of any family or even where I was born.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

No, I did not see anyone.
Former resident, children's home, 1957-58 and 1963-64

None at all.
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

No contact was ever made between myself or immediate family. Later on, when I was about six or seven years old an elderly lady… would visit me once a month... On one of these occasions I had apparently misbehaved and was sent to bed for the day. When she arrived she was told that I was too ill to see anyone that day and she returned back to [her home]. Some after she became too frail and unable to come visit. She was then replaced with another 'Auntie' from a church group… who visited faithfully with her son and daughter till I was discharged in 1959.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Did you know who was responsible for your care?

No, I did not know who was responsible for my care.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

No. I never received a visit from a social worker.
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

Before she was hospitalised with tuberculosis, my mother spoke to a social worker. I was placed in an orphanage where my mother thought I would receive good care from the nuns. I knew who was 'in charge' of the orphanage - Sister X. For this sister to get any kind of attention all she had to do was hold up her first finger and everyone just froze where you stood, if you moved an inch you where severely beaten with a long wooden stick approximately 3 ft long. This was used with brute force sometimes the stick would break and had to be replaced.'
Former resident, children's home, 1954-55

I didn't know as I was led to believe that I was an orphan by the house mother. I was never told my birthdate, nor the year I was born until I left [the children's home] and got my birth certificate. I found out then that I had a father and mother… I didn't know who was responsible for my care in [the children's home]. I felt like a non-person..
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

I had no idea of anyone other than [the children's home] being responsible for my care. I assumed that [the children's home] was responsible and that they, through faith, love and charity, would feed and clothe me until discharged. After discharge at 15 I should get myself a job and then would be responsible for taking care of myself. No-one at the [children's home] explained to us how to do anything anywhere outside of the main gates.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Were you able to talk to that person, or persons, about what made you unhappy?
If not, why not?
If so, what type of response did you get?

I didn't talk to anybody - never.
Former resident, children's home, 1942-1954

We were caned if we didn't drink our sour milk and if we didn't eat our meal it was left and added to the next meal. I was treated differently in the children's home where I was out in the parks playing. When I tried to talk about abuse, I was not believed and told "nuns don't act like that".
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

If someone done something wrong (trivial) then all the boys were punished, by being lined-up in the main drill hall. The punishment consisted of (Sister X) would have an item in her hand that she would squeeze, this would make a click sound. When you heard this click sound we would point our arms upwards towards the roof and when the click sound was heard again then we would bring our arm back down and try to line our fingers level with our shoulders. If [Sister X] saw that your fingers were not level with your shoulder, she would carry a long wooden round stick. This was used to hit us across the fingers with brute force. Sometimes this stick would break because of the pressure she used.

Some of the boys had broken and badly bruised fingers but I cannot remember any of the boys getting any medical treatment after the punishment drills.

I was sent to the kitchen to work with [Sister Y] and life became a lot better with her. She would talk to me and show respect. She was responsible for all the meals.
Former resident, children's home, 1954-55

There was no-one to talk to… other than the other boys. We never dared associate with the girls. Venturing through the girls side… was shunned. We would be asked for what purpose was the visit then we'd be strapped with the leather belt for doing so. We were never encouraged by anyone in the [children's home] to sit and talk about conditions that existed… We would never disclose our feelings fears or problems to anyone. We were controlled by fear and intimidation. Fear to tell of the brutality on an almost daily basis, and fear for the repercussions that would follow if we did. Conversation with [our house parents] would almost always be in a question or an answer format. We would answer yes or not to them as mummy or daddy till about 12 years old then it became yes or no [Mr and Mrs] till we were discharged. I sat many times since leaving… to try and recall conversations with either one of them… They just do not exist.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Were there any adults at the residential home where you lived whom you could talk to about your concerns?
If not, why not?
If so, what was their job?
If so, what type of response did you get?

We had no-one with whom we could talk about why we were unhappy. Most of the time we lived in total fear. We had no freedom there was complete control of our every move. Absolute regimentalism was expected. When we rose and ate and when it was bed time... 6 o'clock. I was 12 years old when I had to spend an entire week in bed during the summer for talking. I felt Alone! Lost! Afraid! And Helpless! Once I was severely punished and went to see [Mr S] at his office. He did respond to my complaint. I told an older girl about and she told the house parent and I was made to spend several days in my bed. I did not know if [Mr S] did anything about the incident. We had nothing in the little lockers beside our beds.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

No…same as [previous question]. I couldn't/didn't talk to anybody. This was because we were prisoners of fear and scared of being reported. We were paralysed. The level of fear of the house mother was unbelievable. She would have a strap in her hand and with that, or her bare hands, would hit you in passing. If you cowered when passing her, as we often did, she would say, "I won't disappoint you girl" and hit you. There was nobody to tell and we were too scared anyway. I never reported any of this and I feel guilty sometimes for others that I couldn't. There was no way out (we were even schooled there too) life was so narrow with nobody to turn to. I used to lie in bed, as others did, crying for someone to love me or take me away from there.
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

The nuns, who were responsible for my care and my brother's care, beat my 5-year-old brother so severely that he couldn't go to school for a fortnight. I told the police and my grandfather about it. I was told "I deserved a smack every now and again" and that the "nuns were good women".

I showed my hands where I had received the strap to my teacher, who told the headmistress. The headmistress said "these girls have to be kept under control".

I told a priest about abuse and he said "God bless you my child".
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

I could not think of anyone that I could relate any problems to other than the [house parents] or to the…superintendent. In any case, either of them were to be avoided at all costs in our estimation. There was no independent agency to talk to. If my former peers were to be asked I am positive they would agree. We lived in an atmosphere that as bastards and misfits we were in a different league with [house parents] and the [children's home] management. We felt somehow subservient and huddled together and of course we were always too timid to approach anyone else about our concerns. We were never encouraged to talk about our feelings, or about ambitions or what we would like to do after our departure. That we supposed, was all part of growing up and we would have to deal with it in our own miraculous ways when we were edged into the mainstream of society upon discharge.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Were you aware of adults visiting from outside the residential home where you lived?
If so, did you know who they were?
Were you able to talk to them?
If so, were you able to talk to them in private?
If you spoke to them about your concerns, what response did you get?

I would watch children on the first Saturday of the month have a visit from family members. The phone would ring telling which child was to go to the central hall for a visit.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

I don't remember seeing a doctor - maybe once. We got a dose of Epsom salts no matter what. A dentist pulled my teeth. I was sent to the sick bay with the flu. The nun in charge told me to get up and I fainted. I was sent to school but sent home again by the teacher. I was isolated in the sick bay and had no personal contact.
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

Nobody came to visit in 16 years apart from one incident I mentioned above with the house auntie who left and I wasn't one of the ones spoken to by the two men who came to [the children's home].
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

The only adults that I recall who visited me were the two [aunties that is, children's home visitors]. I entered the children's home when I was three months old. I had no idea who brought me to the [children's home] until I received a letter in 1972, thirteen years after discharge 13.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Did you have contact with adults when you spent time away from the residential home?
If so, who did you have contact with?
Were you able to talk to them?
If so, were you able to talk to them in private?
If you spoke to them about your concerns, what response did you get?

I was 10 years old when I saw my first visitor (my heart jumped!). I was introduced to a [Mrs. q] (possibly from a church group) who lived at [x]. Sometimes she was unable to come but always sent people to visit me on the first of the month. There was a young boy named [c]... who was also picked. Poor [c] one day he was not allowed to go out because his house parent decided to punish him. I never did find out why? I kept asking my visitor but I only received silence. I do remember that day and spending the visit sitting ... for hours not moving an inch. I do remember looking back and guessing that Mrs. [q] could not change their minds. [c] was never chosen for a visit again.

I did tell [Mrs. q] how unhappy I was but she never made any comments. I am certain this also distressed her, however I felt that I was never heard. I still got a visit and was on rare occasions allowed out on a visit to Glasgow. However she seemed very distant. [Mrs. q] did give me some sweets and presents at Christmas. However, I was forced to hand them to the house parent. Sometimes I never saw them again. Unfortunately I did not keep in touch with [Mrs. q] when I left the Homes.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

I never saw or was taken to see any person from the local authority.
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

The only time away I had was one year we went to [town] for a holiday to a ...home, but we were kept apart from other folk there. One of other house mothers took us. If we were 'good' we got up to [city] once a month when we were a bit older. I 'rebelled' a bit at 15 so didn't get out much. In all the years I was there (1938-1956) I got out once a month when over 16, up to [city] 1pm to 9pm. 9/10 I never got out.

During all of the years there would be visiting for others once a month. The 'phone would go, names would be shouted to go and meet visitors but it never happened for me. The children's home provided no comfort at these times. As children and young people we were loyal to each other. We were made to feel by some of the adults that it was a crime that we had been born...
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

I was about twelve years old when [a children's home visitor] invited [another boy] and myself to spend a few days with her at her home… We were never asked by [her] or her family about our time at the [children's home] and we never spoke to them about things that happened at the [children's home]. We were simply overjoyed to be away yet unfortunately, still too meek and ashamed to tell what was happening to us… In retrospect I think [the children's home visitor] just wanted us to have a nice time while we looked at what was in store for us a world far away from the [children's home].
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Did 'inspectors' or other adults from outside with management responsibilities visit the residential home where you lived?
If so, were you able to talk to them?
If so, were you able to talk to them in private?
If you spoke to them about your concerns, what response did you get?

Yes we had inspections. Once we had a [special] inspection. First [the visitors] listened to an account of how the money was spent on the upkeep of the home. Descriptions of the allocations for the buildings food etc…. We were all expected to sit and listen to this for hours not moving an inch…. The children had to make an extra effort to make sure the home was spotless for the visit. This was not a pleasant way to spend our time. The visit was approximately 2 hours with people coming and going while we kept in the background.

Once I remember a visit of an inspector at school. We were told to turn our pages to our best math work. He walked around the class said nothing just looking at our jotters.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

Once, when two inspectors came to visit.
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

I think there were inspections, maybe yearly. The place was cleaned up, washed down including the walls and ceilings before the inspector arrived.
Former resident, two children's homes, 1954-1960

There was no evidence of anything of this kind [inspection and monitoring system], no visits to the [children's home] by independent external agencies, nor interviews with the children.
Former resident, children's home, 1960s.

There was never any need for inspectors as all the [buildings] were scrubbed and polished clean from top to bottom 365 days a year in my time. 1944-1959. If we were to have inspectors visit us, no doubt we would be sitting with our arms folded in silence for the duration.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

Did you know what 'quality of care' you could expect to receive when you lived in your residential home?
If so, how did you know?
As a child, what did you expect from those persons responsible for your care?

No, but I knew that I was not valued.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

Nothing. When I lived in [the children's home] I was never allowed to be ill. If I was ill and unable to work I was told I was 'sciving' and made to feel like a criminal. We were treated like animals… we got no respect. For example, at puberty I had to knock on the door and declare to the house mother if I had my period and children who wet the bed had to do the same thing. Sometimes teachers would be told that we were in bed ill when in fact we were scrubbing floors and unable to attend school in case the teachers saw the result of the physical punishment meted out by the house mother e.g. black eyes and/or that you were emotionally upset by it.

The carers in [the children's home] lived in relative luxury e.g. eating poultry and eggs, whilst in all the years I was there I never tasted chicken and the children had to make do mostly with powered eggs.

You couldn't sit down and talk, confide 1 to 1 with any staff member as that would have been seen as condemnation of [the founder] and that could never happen. I feel that the name of [the home] definitely came before the welfare of the children. As a child I felt like a commodity. It was all about money with religion being rammed down your throat from 4 years old. The only time talking was permitted was if it was about religion in some way e.g. chanting bits of the bible. We had no choice, we were just put there. We had no existence, no quality of life. There was no love and compassion.

What did I expect? I had nothing to compare it with so I had no expectation except that I wished that someone would take me away from it. I had wanted to be a nurse but I never got that chance. When I left [the children's home] I was 'put out to a family' to do their housework. It was an awful experience.
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

If you had concerns as a child living in a residential home, what options did you think you had if you wanted an adult to help you?

I had No Options! We knew no adults who we could trust or who would help us. We were taught to pray and that didn't work. I often thought of running away. Maybe I could knock on a strangers door. Surely they would feed me and give me a bed. I knew deep down that this was impossible because children who ran away were brought back and beaten by...
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

It was hard to seek help even from the few outsiders you did come into contact with e.g. doctor. You just didn't trust anybody. The doctor came once a year and sometimes there would be marks on you from punishment which he must have seen - but he said and did nothing about them. People from the outside made assumptions about why you were upset e.g. 'maybe you just didn't like your job' as in my case at one point, instead of trying to find out what was really troubling me.
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

The lines of reporting and communication appeared to deliberately obscure and threats of severe punishment were used by some carers to deter children from making complaints… There was no evidence that management, abusers and the system were accountable to anyone. They were skilful in concealing or suppressing incidents of malpractice, complaints of cruelty and reports of abuse.
Former resident, children's home, 1960s.

By being silent it was our life-blood, our way of grasping anything just to be able to live. Saying anything to anyone of the cruelty's that happened on a daily basis might jeopardise the only home that we ever had. To speak of abuse or beatings to anyone would be the betrayal of a false loyalty we had to the [house parents] and the [children's home] that we inherently just had to accept. The consequences included beatings and/or threats of eviction from the [children's home] to Borstal. This was a choice that would be offered constantly to remind us just how grateful we should be to be part of the [children's home] under the administration of the [house parents]…
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959

What would you recommend for children living in residential homes who want to express their unhappiness about something important to them?

This is a very difficult question. If the child has no one to turn to. The system has failed the child.
Former resident, children's home, 1944-1960

They must have contact with the outside world as we didn't and look what happened. There must be someone to build a trusting relationship with who isn't part of the place they live. Children must have this opportunity. Children need to feel confident and not fear that they can tell someone who will help them if things aren't right for them or they aren't being cared for properly. To hold back fear is a terrible thing - allowing the person doing wrong to get away with it, and having to watch them.

To protect children we need to somehow look at the inside of people, not the outside, not allow them to build up falseness unchallenged.

Got to look deeper - it can be hard for a child but if he/she builds up trust with an adult and that can be maintained this builds confidence. This shouldn't be broken as then the child can go into a corner again, as trust is taken away from him/her.

Never tell a child nobody wants them and/or deny them information about their family. Children need love and compassion not the dreaded emptiness that I have experienced.
Former resident, children's home, 1938-1956

One older former resident contacting the review summarised his response in a paragraph. He stated that his '…generation was brought up using entirely different methods than the generations of the sixties and seventies. We did not have at our disposal any social agencies to help us. We had not such thing as public services such as a police station to go to if needed. [The children's home] has it's own internal security called the strap. No other agencies were visible at any time in my fifteen years at [the children's home]. No one ever came to interview me or to ask if I needed any help'.
How childhood experiences have affected former residents' lives

Former residents described their poor sense of identity and feelings of not belonging, which they attribute to their experiences in children's residential establishments 14. They expressed feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, despair, lack of trust and stigmatisation. They reported dysfunctional inter-personal and family relationships, suicide attempts, high death rates, and alcohol and drug abuse. According to former residents they experience feelings of betrayal, resistance to and non-acceptance of authority.

Many residents talked about the poor education they received and its life-long impact. Several managed to further their education in later years, with some winning national awards for their work and gaining employment as university professors. Others say they managed to raise healthy children, build strong, loving family relationships and to lead a productive, satisfying life despite their unhappy childhood experiences.

Many former residents, despite many unhappy childhood experiences, can also remember times in their earlier lives when they had happy or joyful moments. Former residents spoke about individuals who were kind to them, about special excursions they said were fun and about times playing with other children that made their lives manageable. Some recall brutal experiences in one children's home and caring experiences in another.

What former residents want

Former residents indicated that they have different and varying needs although there are some common elements to all. Some or all former residents indicated they would like:

  • A survivors' conference to discuss funding distribution for support services
  • Direct apologies from the organisations or local authorities with responsibility for them as children
  • The establishment of a historical account
  • Support and advocacy services for survivors of childhood abuse
  • Support and advocacy services, including educational and training opportunities, for all former residents who may require such services
  • Right of access to records
  • Accountability by those responsible for the residential establishments where they resided
  • Proper vetting, listing and reporting procedures for employees
  • Effective training, monitoring and investigation procedures for employees
  • An independent complaints reporting system for children
  • A judicial inquiry
  • The removal of the time-bar established by the 1964 law on limitation
  • Making certain that the law is applied to ensure due legal process
  • Legal amendments to eliminate the possibility of reductions in sentences due to technical loopholes

One individual who lived in a children's residential establishment in the 1970s, for example, told the review that she requires counselling services arising from abuse she experienced in a children's home. This person stated that her experiences as a witness at a criminal trial, resulting in the criminal convictions of adults who abused children in children's homes, had also contributed to her additional support needs.

Part 3. Former residents: key legal themes 1950-1995

This section summarises the main legal provisions affecting former residents living in children's residential establishments. Arising from questions former residents asked during their contact with the review, it is written from the perspective of former residents and intended as an aid to understanding the legal framework 15.

Why and where were we placed in children's residential establishments?

The law shows you may have been placed for various reasons. For long-term care, juvenile courts and, after 1968 the children's hearing system, had the power to order alternative care for you if you were seen as being in need of "care and protection" 16.

In the early years, if you had an offence committed against you under the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, namely assault, ill treatment, neglect or abandonment, then the 1937 Act could provide for your removal to a "place of safety" - which could include a remand home, poor house, police station, and hospital.

You may have been placed in a children's home. Whether an offence was committed against you or not, the Children Act 1948 (then later in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and Children (Scotland) Act 1995) provided that if you were orphaned or deserted, or your parents or guardian couldn't provide you with proper accommodation or care for you adequately, then the local authority had a duty to receive you into care in the interests of your welfare 17. The authority could either provide accommodation itself, or make arrangements to board you out, place you in another local authority home, or in a voluntary home 18.

Before 1968, you may been placed in an approved school, intended to provide residential education and training for children and young people aged 16 years and under. You might have been an offender, ordered there by a court 19 or transferred by the Secretary of State 20. Or, the authorities may have considered you "in need of care and protection" 21. After 1968, approved schools became known as "List D schools" and were phased out over a period of time under the terms of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.

Before 1968, if you had mental health problems, then your parent or guardian, and the school board or parish council - with the consent of your parent or guardian - could arrange for you to be transferred to a relevant institution under the legislation 22. These placements might have included mental health institutions, special schools and homes for children with disabilities. The local education authority had to decide whether you were in need of "special educational treatment", and, if so, could provide for that education in a special school. If you suffered from a disability and needed care and attention, the local authority could place you in residential accommodation under either the 1937 Act or the National Assistance Act 1948, later dealt with under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.

You may have been placed in a remand home under the 1937 Act 23. As a juvenile offender, you may have been placed in what you knew as a Borstal institution in the years before 1968.

Who had guardianship responsibilities for us?

In the early years, your parents or family members may have placed you in a children's residential establishment. Beginning with the 1937 Act, however, the local authority could assume guardianship responsibilities for you under the legislation 24, depending upon the circumstances and what was considered to be your best interests. This usually happened if you had no living parent or guardian, or where your parent or guardian couldn't adequately care for you. The local authorities had to take steps in your care "as would be required of a parent" 25.

But if you were placed in an approved school or residential establishment not managed by a local authority, the legislation stated that the managers could assume all rights and powers that normally belonged to parents by law 26.

Were we allowed contact with family and friends?

If you were placed in an approved school, under the 1937 Act you were entitled to receive letters and visits from your parents, relatives, guardians or friends (although such a "privilege" could be suspended as a form of discipline) 27. This entitlement in later law required you to be actively encouraged to write to your parents at least once a week 28. Every letter to or from you could be read by staff under the Headmaster's authority. Those letters could be withheld (although the facts and circumstances of letters withheld had to be noted in the log book, and the letter kept for at least a year) 29. However, any letter to a manager, or to the Secretary of State or any of his officers or departments, could not be withheld 30.

If you were placed in a children's home run by a local authority, the law also entitled you to parental and guardian visits 31. If a voluntary organisation managed your children's home, you could still receive visits. The law required managers to give the Secretary of State information about the facilities provided for parents and guardians to visit and communicate with children 32.

If you were placed in a remand home, the law stated that "reasonable facilities" should be given for you to receive visits from your relatives or guardians and friends, and to send or receive letters 33.

Apart from family and friends, what independent visits should I have had?


If you were in an approved school, the Scottish Education Department was responsible for reviewing your progress through an inspector 34. Under the 1937 Act, your approved school had to be open at all times for inspection by His Majesty's Inspector of Schools or of any appointed officer. Inspectors could examine your school records and record any observations in the log book 35. Later, in 1961 law, inspectors had the power to interview you, as well as the staff at your approved school if they wished 36.

If you were in a children's home the Scottish Education Department could inspect that home as the law provided 37.

If you were placed in a mental health institution, the law generally required that inspectors or commissioners visit you at least twice every year, and inspect your welfare and the what arrangements were in place to care for you and control you 38. These inspection requirements were replaced by new provisions in 1960 allowing for the institution, whether a private hospital or residential home, to be inspected at "all reasonable times" 39. The inspectors were allowed to interview you in private if they wished 40. These provisions continued under new mental health legislation introduced in 1984 41.

If you were placed in a home for the disabled, the law stated that any person authorised by the Secretary of State could enter the home and inspect it at any time 42.

If you were placed in a remand home then the home was subject to inspection at all times by an inspector 43.

Care authorities and managers:

The managers of an approved school were required to visit the school to ensure that your "welfare, development and rehabilitation" was satisfactory. Initially, these visits could be periodic, but after 1961 had to be made every month 44.

If you lived in a children's home, the 1947 law required a children's officer to visit you within one month of your placement in the establishment and at least once every six months 45. The local authority was also required to arrange for you to be visited by an authority member at least once a year, and for a report to be produced assessing your health, well-being and behaviour, the progress of your education, and any other matters relating to your welfare if considered necessary 46. These requirements continued under new legal provisions introduced in 1959 (and remaining until 1987). These placed a duty on the authority that administered the home - for example a local authority or voluntary organisation - to arrange for the home to be visited every month by an "authorised visitor" (usually a children's officer) who was to be satisfied that the home was being conducted properly in securing your welfare. 47 Finally, under new legislative provisions introduced in 1987, the local authority had a duty to ensure that your placement continued to be in your "best interests". The law required the local authority to visit within one week of your placement, and at least every three months after that 48.

If you lived in a mental health institution and the local authority had parental rights, someone from the authority had to visit you 49 under provisions introduced in 1960 and extending to 1984.

If you lived in a remand home, the law provided that a local authority member should visit the home at least every three months, with at least two visits a year made without notice 50. You were also entitled to visits from justices and magistrates of juvenile courts from which cases were received by the remand home 51.

Medical officers:

If you lived in an approved school, the law required a medical officer to give you a thorough medical examination when you were admitted to the school and shortly before leaving it. While you were at the approved school, the medical officer should have examined you every three months and, under rules introduced in 1961, he should also have visited the school every week 52. You were also entitled to be seen by a dentist initially once every year, increased to once every six months after 1961 53.

If you lived in a children's home the law said you had to get a proper medical examination when you arrived at and left the home. The medical officer was required to visit the home regularly, and to examine children at least once a year 54. Again, you were also entitled to dental treatment 55.

If you were resident in a remand home, the rules generally provided for a medical examination when you arrived at and left the home. A doctor should have been appointed to act as medical officer and administer any necessary medical treatment. This medical officer was to make regular visits to the home and generally supervise your health 56.

What was to be done to ensure my welfare, education, health and safety?

If you were placed in an approved school, managers had a duty to provide for your clothing and maintenance. The school premises need to be properly maintained; this covered lighting, heating, ventilation, cleanliness, sanitary arrangements and safety against fire. After 1961 the law stated that you should have a separate bed in a room with sufficient ventilation and be given suitable clothing. You also had to be supplied with a diet of "sufficient, varied, wholesome and appetising food…adequate for the maintenance of health"; the diet was to be decided by managers after consulting with the headmaster and the medical officer and approved by an inspector 57. A meal couldn't be withheld from you as a form of punishment 58. The relevant fire precautions also had to be taken. Furthermore, the daily routine of the school education was to be approved by the SED59, and the education itself was to be suitable in terms of your age and aptitude 60.

If you were in a children's home, the law also provided that you had to be provided with a separate bed in a room with enough ventilation and lighting, and easy access to suitable toilets and washing facilities 61. Again, the relevant fire precautions were to be taken. New rules in 1987 applied the legal provisions on health and safety to all residential establishments 62. Some children's homes may have also had an additional educational function. If so, the school was to be run in line with the rules in the various Education (Scotland) acts, providing for your proper education.

If you were in a remand home, and of school age, then arrangements were to be made for suitable schoolroom instruction either on or off the premises 63. If you were in a mental health institution or disabled home then rules applied to provide you with education in a special school. If you were unsuitable for training or education in this kind of school, then the local authority had to provide or find suitable education for you 64.

The law made certain types of acts criminal in all the establishments described above. This was to protect you against mistreatment, abuse, and child cruelty. For example, anyone over the age of 16 could be found guilty of an offence if he or she assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or abandoned a child 65. "Neglect" was defined as "[failing] to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging". Various sexual crimes applied throughout the years of the review. These included homosexual acts, indecent assault, shameless indecency, and lewd and libidinous conduct 66.

What discipline and punishment was allowable?

If you lived in an approved school, then the headmaster, headmistress or staff could punish you in certain ways according to the seriousness of your behaviour. To maintain discipline, you could be deprived of "privileges or rewards", "conduct marks, recreation or freedom", or "loss of rank", for example 67. You shouldn't have been deprived of recreation for more than one day at a time, and if isolation was part of your punishment it was to be for no longer than six hours in a suitable room with regular visits from staff 68. After 1961, you could be denied home leave if you committed a serious offence 69. However, any segregation for more than 24 hours, or more than two nights in a row, now required written permission by one of the managers and a report to the SED70.

Corporal punishment was permitted, although from 1933 only a leather strap could be used: the rules stated that a cane or any form of cuffing or striking was forbidden 71. The punishment was also very specific. For boys under 14, only two strokes on each hand, or four strokes on the backside over trousers, was permitted 72. Boys over 14 could be punished with three strokes on each hand or six strokes on the backside over trousers. For girls, only three strokes on the hands were allowed on any one occasion 73. And if you showed any signs of physical or mental weakness, the medical officer's consent was required before corporal punishment was inflicted 74. After 1961 an adult witness was also required to be present if the punishment wasn't carried out in front of a class in a schoolroom 75, and the Secretary of State's permission was required for some forms of punishment, including corporal punishment 76.

If you were resident in a children's home, similar rules to approved schools applied. Any punishment administered to you had to be recorded in a log book, and, in general, any punishment for misconduct could only take the form of a temporary loss of recreation or privileges 77. Corporal punishment was allowed, but only in "exceptional circumstances" and in line with whatever rules the authority that administered the home laid down about what type of punishment and any limits to punishment 78. Again the medical officer had to agree to any punishment of any child known to have any physical or mental disability . In general, corporal punishment was permitted until changes in law under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 80.

New rules introduced in 1987 gave managers the power to make arrangements for your discipline and control in line with a statement of functions and objectives - that set out how the home was run - but this couldn't include authorising corporal punishment 81.

If you were resident in a remand home, rules for discipline were similar. When punishment was necessary, it had to take the form of a temporary loss of recreation or privileges, reduction in food, or separation from other inmates (but only if you were over 12 and had a way of communicating with a member of staff) 82. Corporal punishment was allowed if the previous punishments were ineffective, but could only be administered to boys. Striking, cuffing and shaking were forbidden, and only a strap could be used and only then for no more than three strokes on each hand or for no more than six strokes on the bottom, over trousers 83.

What powers and duties did the Secretary of State have?

If you were resident in an approved school, the Secretary of State had various powers and duties. He or she could:

  • withdraw your school's certificate of approval, if dissatisfied with the school's condition or how it was being run 84;
  • order you to be discharged, transferred to another school, or placed in the community on licence 85;
  • send you to an approved school if you were a juvenile offender (for example detained in a Borstal institution) 86;
  • waive any provisions contained in the rules and regulations as he saw fit 87;
  • consider the school's premises and equipment, number and grades of staff, and your education, training and welfare; if he or she felt any of these weren't good enough, managers could be given directions to achieve the proper standard 88;
  • regulate how your school was managed and appoint new managers 89;
  • specify the number of pupils allowed in your school 90;
  • appoint inspectors to inspect your school 91; and
  • call for the return of any records considered necessary 92.

The Secretary of State had to:

  • review your progress in school 93;
  • authorise, after 1961, any punishment other than a minor punishment; this meant that authorisation was needed if you were to receive corporal punishment 94;
  • approve any part of your school that was to be used as a special section for abnormal and unruly pupils; any pupil that was to be transferred there now had to have the Secretary of State's permission 95; and
  • approve the instructions to be followed if a fire broke out 96.

If you were resident in a children's home, the Secretary of State could:

  • make regulations about how local authorities should carry out their functions and run the home, and for securing your welfare in the home 97;
  • serve a notice on the local authority not to use a property as a home if the property was unsuitable or wasn't being run in line with the regulations 98;
  • give any instructions to managers if the management, accommodation or your treatment posed a danger to your welfare 99;
  • consult on the people applying to take charge of the home 100;
  • require the local authority to order you to be removed from the home if necessary 101; and
  • appoint inspectors to inspect the home 102.

The Secretary of State had to:

  • require voluntary homes to be registered 103;
  • receive notification of any action taken by a local authority on a report by a visiting officer about your health, well-being and behaviour, the progress of your education, or any other matter concerning your welfare 104;
  • receive any information he or she required about your home's accommodation and staffing arrangements 105;
  • be told if the person in charge of your home changed 106;
  • be told about any outbreak of fire in your home that meant you had to be removed from the home or the part of it affected by the fire 107;
  • receive any information he or she required about facilities for your parents and guardians to visit and communicate with you 108; and
  • receive details of your home, including (if it was a voluntary home) its name and address, the name of the person in charge, and the name of any other government departments inspecting the home 109.

If you were resident in a mental health institution, the Secretary of State could:

  • ask for special reports on inspections 110;
  • after 1960, stipulate what registers and records should be kept 111;
  • make regulations about the records kept, and reports to be given, by residential homes about who they took into care 112; and
  • after 1984, be told about any concerns the Care Authority had about your care or treatment 113.

The Secretary of State had to make sure (after 1960), through regular inspections, that private hospitals were being run properly 114.

If you were resident in a home for disabled children, the Secretary of State could appoint inspectors to inspect the home 115.

If you were resident in a remand home, the Secretary of State could appoint inspectors to inspect the home 116. The Secretary of State also had to:

  • approve the home for the relevant purpose 117;
  • approve the appointment of the person taking charge of the home 118;
  • be told of your committal under the 1937 Act, and of any death, serious illness, infectious disease or accident that occurred in the home 119; and
  • be told every three months of corporal punishments 120.

Also, after 1968, if you were resident in any residential establishment within the terms of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 or the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, the Secretary of State could:

  • remove you from any establishment 121;
  • make regulations covering your welfare and how the establishment should be run 122;
  • appoint inspectors to inspect the establishment 123;
  • require local authorities to review your case at certain intervals and in certain ways 124; and
  • order an inquiry into, for example, the functions of a local authority or voluntary organisation under the 1968 Act, or the detention of a child under the 1937 Act 125.

Other powers extended to approved, or List D, schools. The Secretary of State could:

  • withdraw approval for the school;
  • change its classification;
  • direct how managers should run the school; and (for voluntary schools)
  • appoint managers and change the constitution of the managing body 126.

If you were placed in secure accommodation in a residential establishment, the Secretary of State had to:

  • approve the establishment that provided secure accommodation 127; and
  • have access to records about your placement so these could be inspected 128.

Part 4. Conclusion

"By being silent it was our life-blood, our way of grasping anything just to be able to live."
(Former resident, children's home, 1944-1959)

A major theme among former residents' experiences, as told to the review, is that they didn't talk about their abuse as children or, if they did, they weren't believed or they were punished. As children, they learned to be silent about what they experienced as grave injustices. Former residents say they often expressed their unhappiness and fear through their behaviours: by absconding, becoming ill, acting out, crying, hiding and remaining silent.

According to Pinheiro, the history of violence against children is a history of silence 129. The UN Study on Violence against Children 130, which combined human rights, public health and child protection perspectives, included the views of children directly consulted throughout the study. The study concluded that there is a lack of knowledge and understanding about violence against children. It urged member states to fulfil their human rights obligations to protect children from violence, which the study claimed required a multi-faceted preventative approach.

It is apparent that hearing the experiences of survivors of abuse can contribute to our understanding and our knowledge about violence towards children, particularly children who are among the most vulnerable - children in state care. If there is one overriding message from all that former residents have said, it is that people who listen to, respect and treat children with dignity make the positive difference in children's lives - not laws alone.