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

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Chapter 7: What more can be done? Conclusions and recommendations

This chapter is structured as follows:

  • My conclusions
  • A strategy for achieving progress for looked after and accommodated children and for former residents
  • My recommendations:
    • For establishing a National Task Group for looked after and accommodated children
    • For meeting needs of former residents
    • For records

My conclusions

The Regulatory Framework

Looking back over a long period of time poses difficulties, not least the risk of imposing 21st century perspectives on action in the past. There's a scarcity of research material about children's lives in Scotland and about their experiences in residential child care. Attitudes to children have changed gradually but only in the last 10 years or so in Scotland has there been full acknowledgement in law of children's rights.

Attitudes to punishment have been inconsistent. Although evidence indicates that abuse of children was known about throughout the review period, public awareness didn't develop until the 1980s.

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

The review has identified the laws that were in place from 1950 to 1995 to ensure that residential schools and children's homes in Scotland were provided, monitored and inspected. During that period, the context in which residential child care services were delivered changed constantly.

The regulatory framework didn't provide adequately for talking and listening to children and taking their views into account until the end of the review period. Before that, the laws governing residential schools and children's homes developed only slowly in acknowledging children's rights.

The laws in place during the first half of the review period didn't ensure that children's residential care services responded sufficiently to the needs of the children requiring the services. It allowed some children to be placed in residential establishments inappropriate to their needs. Despite changes to the law in the late 1960s and 1970s which led to improvements, especially in providing for children with special educational needs, it was the end of the review period before the needs of children being placed in residential establishments were met appropriately.

The law responded slowly to growing awareness of the abuse of children across the review period and to strengthening the protection of children in residential establishments and children's homes. Corporal punishment was permitted in residential establishments into the 1980s despite concerns expressed for example in SED meetings recorded in papers on file in NAS which date from the 1960s. And the law did not require inter-agency working to share information as an aid to protecting children until after the review period.

Accountability for children's welfare and safety were weakened by the law's lack of insistence that children's residential care staff should be suitably qualified, by the lack of a national vetting system for residential care staff and by the lack of national care standards.

Monitoring and inspection requirements were subject to a considerable degree of interpretation across much of the review period. In the absence of national standards of care, consistency in the expectations and assessment of quality and standards in residential schools and children's homes could not be assured.

Compliance, monitoring and inspection

The law specified in varying degrees of detail what should be monitored and inspected in residential schools and children's homes to ensure the children's welfare and safety. Visits by various people, professional and lay, and records were the main approaches for monitoring and inspection mentioned in the legislation and some visits were to take place at specified intervals. However, the law did not provide for independence in monitoring and inspection, nor did it require public accountability for inspection until late in the1980s. As there were no national standards for care, assessments of the welfare and safety of the children by visitors and inspectors could be inconsistent. And the vagueness of requirements for children to have the opportunity to talk to visitors could have limited the possibility of children expressing concerns about their safety. Although there is evidence in files in NAS of government inspectors talking to children during their visits, the action taken was at the inspectors' initiative and may not have been seen by the children as an opportunity for them to speak about any concerns. The lack of requirement for co-operation and sharing of information amongst professionals, may have inhibited valuable exchanges and limited the potential of the information for protecting children.

Identifying practice in monitoring and inspection has proved very difficult. The search for information was affected by people's knowledge of what records existed, where they were located and what they contained. Furthermore the former inspectors I interviewed told me that there was no policy to retain information about practice in inspection because, as practice changed, previous guidance papers were destroyed. Nor is there a central archive of government inspection reports for the period of the review.

Former residents have a key role in contributing to our understanding of past residential child care. The experiences of those I met reinforced my understanding of the importance of listening to, respecting and treating children with dignity. This I recognise as being fundamentally important to all children and all the more so to some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

A strategy for achieving progress

The lessons learned from this review are focused on two distinct but inter-related groups in Scotland:

  • children who are looked-after and accommodated in residential establishments; and
  • former residents.

Both groups have rights and needs and we must strive to do what is best for them in 2007.

Looked-after and accommodated children

The prime objective of the former residents who contributed to the review is to do all they can to ensure that children in residential establishments in 2007 don't experience the kind of abuse which they endured and have survived. It is for those reasons that an outcome of the review should focus on looked-after and accommodated children in 2007.

Having investigated the regulatory provisions for residential schools and children's homes in the past, it's clear to me that, despite extensive and complex regulation, the requirements weren't wholly effective in ensuring children's welfare and safety.

Twelve years on from 1995 new legislation and new approaches to safeguarding children in residential establishments are in place. Monitoring and inspection have been developed to give greater attention to child welfare and safety and the inspection processes have been developed to allow input by people from many professions. In some respects you could say that everything that was identified as needing to be done in 1995 is now in place. And yet,are the same problems are occurring? Do the same needs exist and are the concerns that motivated government to legislate in 1995 still evident? And what of the arrangements for children who are being looked after in other settings; is their welfare and safety good enough?

Former residents

I'm acutely aware that former residents have a range of needs resulting from their experience in residential child care:

  • Some need support services, including counselling.
  • Many would like to have their experiences as a child in a residential establishment heard and recorded - a means of acknowledging and believing what they need to tell.
  • Almost all the former residents who contributed to the review require easy access to records that may contain information about their childhood.
  • Above all, they want to be involved in discussions and decisions about the services provided to meet their needs, including their emotional needs.

The process of relating to and responding to former residents needs to be respectful, empathetic and constructive; for some, the experience to date has been dismissive and abusive. Listening to them and believing them is essential - after all that's what so many of them were denied as children in residential child care.

There is extensive experience in other countries of responding to and meeting the needs of those who have been abused when in children's residential establishments. There is much to learn from that experience in planning the way forward in Scotland, not least in finding ways of accommodating and meeting needs that aren't adversarial or disrespectful.

My recommendations

The lessons of this review point to the need for a new drive to:

  • strengthen the arrangements for the welfare and safety of children in the care of the state
  • meet identified needs of former residents for a range of support services, including access to records; and
  • improve provision and practice for children's residential services records

I've grouped my recommendations into three areas:

a) Current provision to ensure the welfare and safety of looked-after and accommodated children
b) Former residents' needs
c) Records

a) Current provision to ensure the welfare and safety of looked-after and accommodated children

I have learned from a wide range of sources that the needs identified in 1995 still exist.

I believe there is a need to:

  • develop a culture in residential child care founded on children's rights;
  • raise respect for children in the care of the state;
  • raise the status of residential childcare;
  • raise the status of those working in residential childcare;
  • evaluate the fitness for purpose of new policy, new legislation, new structures, new ways of working and new ways of monitoring and inspecting the services provided for children in residential care of all kinds; and
  • keep the services provided to children, and practice in these services, under continuous review.

1. I therefore recommend that a National Task Group should be established with oversight of services provided for looked-after and accommodated children. The Task Group should report to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The Task Group should be asked to:

i. audit annually the outcomes (those agreed through the Government's Vision for Children and Young People) for looked-after and accommodated children and report on the findings;

ii. audit the recommendations of previous reviews and inquiries to determine what action is outstanding and why;

iii. review the adequacy and effectiveness of the arrangements, including advocacy support, in place for children who wish to complain about the services they receive;

iv. monitor the progress in meeting the target of a fully qualified complement of staff in residential child care services, including the identification of barriers to reaching this target, and ways of overcoming them;

v. audit the quality and appropriateness of training and development for those employed in residential childcare;

vi. identify ways of making employment in residential child care a desirable career option;

vii. identify and disseminate best practice in recruitment and selection of staff in residential child care;

viii. ensure that monitoring and inspection focus on those aspects of provision and practice that will help to keep children safe and enable them to achieve their potential;

ix. monitor the extent to which self-evaluation is becoming established practice in residential schools and children's homes;

x. identify the most effective ways, through research and inspection findings and drawing on Scottish and international experience, of ensuring children's welfare and safety in residential establishments;

xi. review the quality and standards of accommodation for residential establishments and recommend improvements as necessary; and

xii. make recommendations for research and development.

b) Former residents' needs

2. The government in partnership with local and voluntary authorities should establish a centre, based on an existing agency if appropriate, with a role that might include:

  • supporting former residents in accessing advocacy, mediation and counselling services.
  • conducting research into children's residential services, including oral histories;
  • maintaining a resource centre with information about historical children's residential services in general;
  • maintaining a database of all past and present children's residential establishments in Scotland
  • developing and maintaining an index for locations where children's residential services records are held

c) Records

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

3. 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.

4. 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 1.

5. 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.

6. 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 my report contains suggested representation and terms of reference.

7. 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.

8. 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. I recommend that the Care Commission should consider taking responsibility for this.