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



This report is the direct outcome of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 1st December 2004. The debate was on a motion on behalf of the Public Petitions Committee, seeking an inquiry into past institutional child abuse. It was the first time the Committee had secured such a debate.

The then Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, announced his intention to appoint someone with experience to analyse independently the laws, rules and regulations that governed children's residential establishments, how these were monitored and how they worked in practice.

This summary has the following sections:

1. Who carried out the review
2. What the review is - and isn't - about
3. What the review was asked to do
4. What we did
5. What the review found
6. What the review recommends

1. Who carried out the review

The Scottish Parliament appointed me, Tom Shaw, as Independent Expert to lead the review. I am the former Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Northern Ireland. I was assisted by researcher Nancy Bell and legal researcher Roddy Hart.

2. What the review is - and isn't - about

This is a systemic review: it's about systems - the systems of laws, rules and regulations (the regulatory framework) that governed residential schools and children's homes. It's about how these schools and homes complied with the regulatory framework, and about the systems for monitoring and inspecting the schools and homes.

It's not about individuals, individual institutions or organisations. I established a confidentiality policy from the outset. The report does not name individuals or organisations with whom I've had contact as part of the review.

And, as my remit specified, I am not reporting on the facts or circumstances of individual cases of abuse.

3. What the review was asked to do

The remit was to carry out an investigation against the background of abuse suffered by children in residential schools and children's homes in Scotland between 1950 and 1995. I could, if necessary, consider materials from outwith these periods if I felt these would be relevant.

I was to consider:

  • the laws, rules, regulations and powers that governed how these schools were run, regulated and inspected;
  • what systems were in place to make sure these laws, rules, regulations and powers were followed; and
  • how these systems worked in practice.

To do this I would:

  • have access to government records; and
  • be expected to seek the co-operation of local authorities and other organisations that ran children's residential schools and homes.

I was not permitted to:

  • report on the facts or circumstances of any individual cases of abuse; or
  • take submissions from individuals.

I felt it was essential to talk to the people who had lived and worked in children's residential schools and homes. So I later sought, and received, permission to meet and receive information from individuals.

4. What the review did

The review used questionnaires and a survey to seek information from organisations - including local authorities and religious and voluntary organisations - and archivists.

The review received information from former residents, in interviews, telephone calls, emails, correspondence and from cuttings, video tapes and DVDs that former residents sent to us.

My researcher and I interviewed people who had worked in services involved with child care services.

My researcher and I reviewed files held in the National Archives of Scotland and the Scottish Executive Education Department and my researcher reviewed files in other archives held in various locations in Scotland and England.

I sought expert advice on aspects of the legal framework and commissioned two specialist reviews. My researcher and I focused on abuse in children's residential establishments and the other considered how society's attitudes to children and social policies have changed during the period of my review.

I established an advisory group of people drawn from backgrounds relevant to the review. My researcher and I examined previous reviews and inquiries.

5. What the review found

Looking back over a long period of time poses difficulties, not least the risk of imposing 21st century perspectives on what people did in the past. Research material about children's lives in Scotland and about their experiences in residential childcare is scarce. 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 law didn't provide adequately for talking and listening to children and taking their views into account until the end of the review period.

The law 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..

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 about abuse in residential child care. And the law did not require inter-agency working and sharing 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 residential schools and children's homes could not be assured.

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 how residential schools and children's homes were monitored and inspected in practice - as opposed to what the laws said should be done - 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. When people left or retired from organisations, they often took with them significant knowledge about records and past practices. Records were scattered across organisations, archives and even countries. Some records are now being examined; others sit in boxes on shelves with little or no hint of what they contain; others were destroyed.

Potentially important information about practice in inspection was lost because, as practice changed and new guidance issued, previous guidance papers were destroyed.

Finding even basic information often proved challenging and time-consuming. No central government databases exist of children's residential establishments in Scotland between 1950-1995 or which organisations were involved in providing these services - let alone what records are associated with which services and where these might be. Hundreds of children's residential services existed in Scotland and across the review period they changed function, location, management or closed down.

The review met a number of obstacles in its search for information:

  • Some potentially significant records in archives were closed
  • There was no legal requirement for local authorities and organisations to help by giving access to information. Some were helpful; some were less so.
  • Local authorities, organisations and government departments were to provide the review with "relevant" records, but determining what was "relevant" proved difficult, confusing and time-consuming.

In general, the review's experience in seeking information reflected some of the difficulties that former residents described in their search for information about their experiences in residential schools and children's homes. Indeed many of them had found little of significance - or nothing at all - after years of trying.

And yet, many valuable records exist and could add significantly to our understanding of practices in residential child care in the past. These records need to be assembled, catalogued and made available for research and investigation.

Former residents have a key role in contributing to our understanding of past residential child care. The experiences of those I met deepened my understanding of the importance of listening to, respecting and treating children with dignity.

The lessons learned from this review focus on former residents, who have many needs arising from their experience in residential child care. These include:

  • support services such as counselling;
  • easy access to records can provide them with information about their childhood lives; and
  • having a say in the services provided to meet their needs.

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 are not adversarial or disrespectful.

This review's lessons also focus on children today, specifically on what are now termed looked-after children and accommodated children. All the former residents who contributed to the review wanted to do all they could to ensure that children in residential establishments today don't experience the kind of abuse that they endured and survived.

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. In some respects you could say that everything that was identified as needing to be done in 1995 is now in place. And yet, the same problems are occurring, the same needs exist and the concerns that motivated government to legislate in 1995 still exist.

6. What the review recommends

I have grouped 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 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 child care;
  • 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, 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.