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



This introduction has the following sections:

1. The background to this review
2. Who carried out the review
3. What the review is - and isn't - about
4. What the review was asked to do
5. How I interpreted the remit
6. The extent of the task
7. How we researched the review
8. Contributions to the review

1. The background to this review

This report is the direct outcome of a debate held 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.

Preceding the debate, the then First Minister Jack McConnell stated:

"Children suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse in the very places in which they hoped to find love, care and protection… Such abuse of vulnerable young people - whenever or wherever it took place - is deplorable, unacceptable and inexcusable"

During the debate the then Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, said that the "Executive's policy is not about closing the book, but about opening a new chapter". Recognising that one issue for survivors was why the abuse "was - as they would put it - allowed to happen", and noting that "understanding why is not reasonable only for survivors, but for the wider society", he promised to take the issue forward.

His pledge, then, was the genesis of this report:

"I intend to appoint someone with experience to analyse independently the regulatory requirements of the time, the systems that were in place to monitor operation of those requirements and, in general, to analyse how that monitoring was carried out in practice."

2. 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.

3. 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.

From the outset there have been high expectations of what the review could deliver and strong views about what it should focus on. I've received some expressions of dissatisfaction from former residents about the terms of the remit. I and my researcher have had to explain many times to people inquiring about the review that our work is determined by the remit and that the focus is on systems, not on individuals or on individual institutions or organisations.

Many of those who contributed to the review felt that tracing appropriate information that would help to describe and evaluate practice in monitoring and inspection in the past would be an extremely difficult, if not impossible task, especially for the first half of the period spanned by the review. As chapter 5 indicates, there are many obstacles to be overcome in identifying potentially relevant sources of information, and in locating and accessing them. It also became clear as the review progressed that information about previous practice was generally not retained once changes in practice were introduced. There was, it would seem, a general concern to avoid the risk of confusing new and former practice, so papers relating to what had gone before were disposed of. For example, national inspectorates appear not to have had a policy for retaining this kind of information at any time during the period spanned by the review. In these circumstances, the process of assessing the effectiveness of past practice is problematic. Adding to the challenge is the lack of research into methods and the effectiveness of monitoring and inspection throughout the 45 years of the review period.

I established a confidentiality policy from the outset. Respecting this, I will not be naming in my report individuals or organisations with whom I've had contact as part of the review. Where the report draws from an individual's memories, an initial has been used, not a name. The report does occasionally name an individual where it refers - for example to set the context for the review - to reports of inquiries or reviews that focus on individuals outwith Scotland. This is a means of providing a time-line for events and developments.

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

4. What the review was asked to do

I was given the following remit:

1. "Against the background of the abuse suffered by children up to the age of 16 in residential schools and children's homes in Scotland over the period from 1950 to 1995 the Independent Expert is instructed to carry out an investigation and, as soon as may be practicable, to present a report for consideration and for publication by Scottish Ministers with the following objectives:

i. to identify what regulatory requirements and powers were in place from time to time over that period and which provided for the provision, regulation and inspection of such schools and homes and for the welfare and protection from abuse of children resident in them;

ii. to identify, and review the adequacy of any systems, whether at national, local or organisational levels, intended to ensure compliance with those requirements and with any prescribed procedures and standards from time to time including systems of monitoring and inspection;

iii. to review the practical operation and effectiveness of such systems.

2. While the remit is primarily concerned with the period 1950 to 1995 the Independent Expert should not regard himself as precluded from considering material from outwith that period which he considers to be of relevance.

3. So as not to prejudice either any possible criminal proceedings or any litigation at the instance of the survivors of abuse the Independent Expert is not to report on the facts or circumstances of any individual cases of abuse.

4. For the purposes of his investigation the Independent Expert will, in addition to information that is publicly available:

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

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

5. Except in so far as provided above the Independent Expert is not expected to consider material or submissions from individuals or from local authorities or such organisations except to the extent that he may consider it necessary for the purposes of his investigation to obtain information from organisations representing the interests of the survivors of abuse."

5. How I interpreted the remit

At the outset I considered that, to undertake a review of this kind, I'd need to be able to talk to and receive information from people who had lived in residential schools and children's homes in the past. I also considered it essential to talk to those who had worked in the residential childcare sector. The remit appeared to rule out making these contacts, and this was a major concern for the former residents who contacted the review asking about its work. I later sought and obtained the Minister's agreement to my meeting and receiving information from individuals. That agreement was confirmed in September 2006.

6. The extent of the task

The work that would be necessary to fulfil my remit is much greater than had been anticipated by those who drew it up. The research into the legislation covering such a long period of time has proved to be very demanding and time-consuming. The extent of relevant legislation is vast. There are large numbers of potential sources of information about how residential schools and children's homes in Scotland were provided, monitored and inspected. These sources are in archives and storage facilities across Scotland, with some in England. The state of archived records added to the complexity and challenge of the work.

As Chapter 5 shows, many of the records that may be relevant have yet to be appropriately catalogued. Until this has been done, it is not possible to confirm what they contain and the extent to which their contents may be relevant to the review.

In some respects, the review's experience in searching for records has paralleled the difficulties of former residents as they search for information about the past.

7. How we researched the review

I employed a researcher and a legal researcher to assist me. I was fortunate enough to employ Nancy Bell as my researcher. Nancy had worked in the Ministry of Attorney General in Canada and subsequently in the British Columbia Children's Commission before coming to Scotland to study at the University of Glasgow. My legal researcher, Roddy Hart, who had read Law at the University of Glasgow was asked to undertake research into the relevant legislation relating to residential schools and children's homes across the review period.

We took forward the work of the review in various ways:

  • We sent a questionnaire to every local and voluntary authority, including churches and religious orders, in Scotland to establish whether they had provided residential schools and children's homes at any stage during the review period. I also asked for information about their policies and practice in residential child care in the past. Details of the questionnaire survey are in Appendix 3.
  • We conducted a survey with the help of local authority archivists to find out what children's residential services records and related information might be held in their archives.
  • Former residents told us about their experiences of living in residential establishments; some information was provided in meetings, some in telephone conversations and some in letters, emails, newspaper cuttings and papers that residents sent us, and some in VHS and DVD formats.
  • We interviewed people who had worked in organisations involved in providing, monitoring and inspecting services for children in residential establishments during the review period
  • My researcher reviewed files held in the National Archives of Scotland ( NAS), SEED, and in other archives in various locations in Scotland and England. I also reviewed files in NAS and SEED.
  • I sought expert advice from Alan Finlayson and Professor Alan Miller on aspects of the legislative framework.
  • I commissioned a literature review focused on abuse in children's residential establishments from Dr Andrew Kendrick
  • I commissioned a paper on society's attitudes to children and social policy changes across the review period from Susan Elsley, consultant
  • My researcher and I examined the recommendations of reports of previous reviews and inquiries to identify which related to matters pertinent to my review
  • I established an advisory group whose members' expertise included inspecting social work services and education, children's hearings, archives and record-keeping, the oversight of residential child care, training and development for the care sector, the health service, academic research into residential child care and the police.

It surprised me that there was no government national database of children's residential establishments. My researcher had to build a database for this review but I couldn't justify the time and effort to take this to a level of inclusiveness to warrant its being regarded as a national database. Hopefully that work can be taken forward in the future, building on what the review has begun. I make a recommendation to that effect later in the report.

8. Contributions to the review

The range and number of people and organisations who have contributed to this review have been impressive. Without their generous contribution of time and expertise and their support and encouragement, the work and progress achieved by the review would not have been possible. I'm deeply grateful for the help, knowledge and support given to my researcher and me. I'm particularly grateful to former residents for their patience and forbearance in waiting for the work of the review to reach its conclusions, not least given the length of time some of them have waited for a public response to their legitimate needs.


I acknowledge with deep gratitude the invaluable contribution made to the work of the review by my researcher, Nancy Bell, and my legal researcher, Roddy Hart. Their work was essential to the progress of the review. The review's administrative support was provided ably and patiently by Jeff Sinton and Andy Goring. I also wish to acknowledge the invaluable advice and support of Robert McAllister, for plain language editing and my advisory group's generosity with their expertise and encouragement:

Ian Baillie

Former Director of Social Work (Church of Scotland)

Margery Browning

Former HM Assistant Chief Inspector - Education

Brigid Daniel

Professor of Social Work, University of Stirling

Canon Tom Gibbons

Former Administrator of Catholic Child Care Committee

Bruno Longmore

Head of Court and Legal Records Branch of National Archives of Scotland

Alan Miller

Principal Reporter, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration

Angus Skinner

Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde

Helen Zealley

Former Director of Public Health with NHS Lothian