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


Chapter 1 The historical context

What this chapter is about

This chapter presents the background context for the chapters that follow. In it, I present the historical background to attitudes to children in general, and to children in residential care in particular.

I describe the environment in which the regulatory framework (the various laws, rules and regulations) developed during the period of my review, 1950-1995. I draw attention to important influences during this period and consider themes and areas that I found relevant.

My conclusions, in the final section of this chapter, highlight areas I consider important for future consideration. I identify several issues relevant to attitudes to children, especially those in residential care:

The chapter has the following sections:

1. The lessons and limitations of history
2. How society's view of child welfare changed after 1945
3. How attitudes to children and childhood changed
4. Reform in the 1960s: Kilbrandon and the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968
5. Major changes that followed the 1960s
6. How society's views of child abuse developed
7. How residential child care changed after 1948
8. Abuse in residential child care 1948-1990
9. My conclusions

The sources I've based this chapter on

I highlight developments - which I've found particularly relevant to my review - in social policy, in attitudes to children and in the literature of historical child abuse. I drew on two pieces of work commissioned for the review. One considers social policy trends and society's attitudes to children and young people in 1950 to 1995. It was prepared by Susan Elsley and is included in full as Appendix 1. The second is a review of the literature on historical abuse in residential child care in Scotland, which was prepared by Robin Sen, Andrew Kendrick. Ian Milligan and Moyra Hawthorn and is included in full as Appendix 2.

The review on social policy trends and society's attitudes to children drew primarily on academic literature, focusing on various texts relating to Scotland. Again, some references are to UK-wide policy and practice; this acknowledges the range of influences on child welfare in Scotland. This review is attached as Appendix 1.

The literature review on residential child care considered materials published on historical abuse in residential schools and children's homes between 1950 and 1995. It drew on sources that focused on Scotland but also, where there were gaps, on research material from the UK. The literature review is attached as Appendix 2.

Both reviews emphasise that extensive material was available, some of which could not be covered in detail for this review. There are also areas where there was little empirical research (research that draws from observation and experience) or a lack of published literature on Scotland.

I am grateful to Susan Elsley for her assistance in editing this chapter.

1. The lessons and limitations of history

  • Challenges in understanding the past
  • Understanding children's lives in the past
  • Scotland's experience and its impact on child welfare

Challenges in understanding the past

The review covers a lengthy period, so it's only possible in this chapter to highlight major developments and emphasise, in retrospect, significant changes in policy and attitudes that affected children and young people and residential child care.

Although my remit is to look at the period from 1950 to 1995, it's important to recognise the considerable impact of earlier decades. The influence of the Victorian Poor Law, the impact of child welfare developments from the beginning of the 20th century and during the two world wars all had a significant role in laying the foundations for what came at the start of the period of our review.

Analysing the experience of children in the past can be biased by our 21st century perspectives. What seems inappropriate and out of date now may have been seen entirely differently in a previous time. The difficulty in balancing our present-day knowledge and understanding with that of the past is another recurring and important theme in our work, to which we refer later in this chapter.

Another challenge in undertaking a historical review of this kind, is the availability of research material in some areas. Those who have explored this period and the history of children's lives have emphasised the lack of research in Scotland, as well as the scarcity of research, drawn from observation and experience, that has examined children's experiences. The lack of research material suggests that understanding children and their needs and rights was not a priority for much of the period. This is particularly relevant for us in terms of the experiences of children and young people who were looked after in residential care. This lack of direct evidence has been challenging for us.

Later chapters highlight the impact of these and other challenges on the task of examining a long period of history. A legal framework that developed over some 45 years adds significant complexity to understanding the past. The nature, extent and retention of records is another significant area: in the absence of good record keeping and records-retention, the potential value of records can be compromised significantly.

Understanding children's lives in the past

The reviews I've used as the basis of this chapter make it clear that understanding attitudes to children and childhood over time is complex. Researchers draw attention to the fact that the situation for children cannot be considered in isolation from that of adults, the state and social trends and that the influences on child welfare are diverse and extensive (Foley, 2001; Frost and Stein, 1989).

Each child's life in the past, as today, was different and it's difficult to identify one definitive understanding of childhood during this period (Hendrick, 2003). Children's experiences were also influenced by factors such as gender, class, disability and culture. In addition, society's awareness and recognition of matters affecting children vary over time. This is particularly relevant to the area of cruelty, neglect and abuse, which is highlighted in this chapter and in different contexts throughout this report.

It's clear that the position of children did change during this period, although contradictions in society's attitudes to children still existed: children were regarded as innocent and helpless, but also as threats to wider society. As Frost and Stein (1989) comment, children were the objects of society's good intentions but were also the oppressed minority who didn't have a voice and were subject to abuse.

It's difficult to define how children were regarded at any point in history as few texts examine the history of their lives. Children's perspectives were rarely recorded and not even actively sought. Research that explored experiences and ideas about children and childhood wasn't common until recently (Abrams, 1998; Hendrick, 2003). This in turn means that much of the historical knowledge of children's lives relies on adults' accounts of their own childhood and adults' interpretations of the past. Much has also been forgotten.

Scotland's experience and its impact on child welfare

What happened in Scotland in child welfare during this period was regarded as reflecting social trends, policy and professional practice in the rest of the UK. But research shows there was something about Scotland's unique urban and industrial experience that helped to make it distinct (Abrams, 1998). Murphy (1992) suggests that there were three main influences on Scottish attitudes:

  • Scotland was a poor country.
  • A strong, Calvinist religious tradition was dominant.
  • Education was influenced by both of these.

Scotland's experience in the Second World War influenced the work of the Clyde Committee, which examined - and, in turn, had a major influence on - Scottish child welfare and education policies (Stewart and Welshman, 2006). I discuss the Committee's work in more detail later in this chapter. Although there were similarities in the philosophies between Scotland and the rest of Britain during this period, the way policy was implemented differed, and led to different outcomes (Murray and Hill, 1991).

What this tells us is that Scotland's experience was both distinctive and similar to what was happening in the rest of Britain. The process of better understanding child abuse, for example, was influenced by the same discoveries and debates.

2. How society's view of child welfare changed after 1945

  • After the Second World War
  • The work of the Curtis and Clyde Committees
  • The Children Act (1948) in Scotland

After the Second World War

There was a strong focus on families and children following the Second World War as part of the process of rebuilding Britain (Cunningham, 2006; Heywood, 1959). The government demonstrated its commitment to investing in families through services for children in health, welfare and education (Abrams, 1998; Foley, 2001). There was a wider concept of what the government was responsible for and a move towards getting the state more involved in families.

By the end of the war Scottish children's health and well-being, which had previously been poor, was improving (Smout, 1987). Since the 1890s England and Wales had seen significant developments in education for young children. But Scotland didn't have the same commitment to child-centred education. Instead, an authoritarian attitude to children was still dominant in the period up to 1950 (Smout 1987).

People's experiences during the war and, in particular, of evacuation, had had a major impact on public opinion. At the end of the war groups such as the Scottish Women's Group on Welfare (1944), sought a more prominent role for the family in society. They asserted the importance of the child guidance movement (a service which aimed to prevent mental ill-health in children), nursery education and co-operation between home and school.

In the 1930s there had been little evidence of concern about the mistreatment of children. However, towards the end of the war the topic of child welfare and, by implication, child abuse, had become more of an issue. There was a pressing need to deal with children who had been evacuated and who couldn't return to their homes (Hendrick, 1994). This was given added weight by the campaigning work of Lady Allen, who highlighted major shortcomings in the care system in a letter to The Times in 1944. These concerns centred attention on the poor state of residential child care and the lack of co-ordination of childcare services.

The work of the Curtis and Clyde committees

In 1944, following public outcry on the situation of deprived children, the House of Commons called for an inquiry into the conditions in residential homes for children. This led to two committees being set up in 1946:

  • The Care of Children Committee in England and Wales, led by Curtis.
  • The Committee on Homeless Children in Scotland led by Clyde.

Their work was instrumental in leading to the 1948 Children's Act and provided an important insight into the circumstances of children living away from home. Their findings are well documented; together with tragic cases involving children in care, including the case of two brothers in Fife, they highlighted the shortcomings in child care services and the shortage of suitably qualified staff.

Both committees advocated foster care rather than residential care. In Scotland, boarding out had always been the more common. In 1945, for example, records show that 5,377 children cared for under the Poor Law in Scotland were boarded out. Only 959 children were in voluntary homes and 749 in Poor Law institutions (Clyde Report, 1946). And of 1,561 children considered in need of care and protection under the terms of the Children and Young Persons' (Scotland) Act 1937, over two-thirds (1,077) were boarded out and 484 were in children's homes. The Clyde Committee also found that a further 4,788 children were in voluntary homes, 3,476 of whom were not in the care of any type of public authority. This indicated the extent to which religious and charitable groups intervened in childcare.

Although they expressed reservations about the quality of some foster care with their report speaking of "isolated instances of cruelty", the members of the Clyde committee still preferred foster care, describing large institutions as "an outworn solution". Yet they acknowledged the need for residential homes in certain circumstances; examples included children with specific care needs, who were part of a family unit too large to place in one foster home or what they called "specially difficult" children. The Clyde committee made recommendations for improving residential accommodation, advocating that large institutions should limit the number in a building to no more than 30 children.

Neither committee found examples of child abuse but they came across examples of extremely poor childcare practice and insensitive treatment of children. However, those who described their experiences to the Curtis committee spoke of the "danger" of "harsh and repressive tendencies or false ideas of discipline".

Later research by Magnusson (1984) and Hendrick (2003) reported that many allegations were made of abuse in residential child care during the time of the Clyde Committee. Former residents, some from Scotland, reported repeated beatings for bedwetting, being force-fed food and made to eat their own vomit (Abrams, 1998).

There were also complaints about extreme corporal punishment, which visitors had identified in one institution. This indicates that some form of monitoring existed and could be effective (quoted in Magnusson, 1984 p.109). But this has to be set against the observation (quoted in Magnusson, 1984) that life in individual units in some large homes was so self-contained that cruel mistreatment of a child could go unnoticed. This isn't to deny that children had good experiences in residential child care: there are testimonies that they did (for example, letters to Sunday Mail 1984 and interviews for this review). Some former residents who had been abused described some aspects of their care in favourable terms, highlighting the benefits provided to them. However, we don't know the extent of good experience or of abuse at that time in residential child care in Scotland. This lack of information is an ongoing theme in the review and makes it difficult for us to draw definitive conclusions.

Evidence suggests concerns about corporal punishment in the later 1940s. The Scottish Home Department questioned its use for girls (Abrams, 1998) and a local councillor requested an inquiry into a Scottish boys' residential school in 1947, noting allegations of excessive beatings (The Scotsman 15 October, 1947). A subsequent inquiry into alleged excessive punishment and beatings in the school resulted in a report that found against the allegations and included, interestingly, comments to the effect that the work of approved schools was extraordinarily difficult (The Scotsman 10 December 1947). These remarks appear to suggest that this justified such treatment.

The Children Act (1948) in Scotland

Although the 1948 Children Act is discussed in Chapter 2, I feel it's important to note some of its key aspects here.

The Act was a response to the examples of poor quality of care that the Curtis and Clyde reports revealed. It gave local authorities a duty to receive into care children who could not live with their parents. Local authorities were to place children in foster care, where possible, using residential care only if fostering was not appropriate and only as a temporary measure.

A significant aspect of the Act was its emphasis on the child's best interests, making a child's welfare central. This showed that society was placing greater importance on child care that centred on children's needs (Stewart, 2001;Ball, 1998). Children in care were to be treated as individuals rather than as a category of young people and were to have access to the same facilities as all other children (Packman, 1981). This Act was regarded as a major step forward for child welfare, paving the way for services over the next 20 years.

Most of the Act's legal provisions applied to Scotland as well as England and Wales but it didn't lead to the same level of children's service developments in Scotland in the 1950s. The approach to children's service was part-time and piecemeal. Even where children's officers were appointed, the structure was poorly developed and affected the service adversely throughout the 1950s (Murphy, 1992). Scotland, says Murphy, didn't take the opportunity to develop a new professionalism among people working with children.

White's study (1973) highlighted how slowly some Scottish local authorities reacted. For example, Edinburgh took up to 20 years to respond to the ideas behind the Clyde report. While the Clyde report and the 1948 Act sought to tighten up the practice of boarding out, there was no attempt to look at the childcare system from the child's point of view (Abrams, 1998). Murphy's and Abrams's comments touch on two key issues identified by this review:
the lack of commitment to develop a fully qualified workforce for residential child care and the need to talk to and listen to children.

3. How attitudes to children and childhood changed

  • Attitudes to children and childhood
  • New understandings of children
  • Children's rights
  • Families and parenting

Attitudes to children and childhood

Attitudes to children and childhood changed during this period. More attention was paid to children's welfare and more liberal views emerged about children's status in society. Despite this, however, childhood remained an area rife with contradictions. Commentators on childhood point out that:

  • childhood has long been viewed as a time in life when children are both dependent and powerless (Stein, 1989); and
  • children have continued to have low status up to the present day, being seen as a minority social group (Mayall, 2006).

In the first part of the 20th century, children were expected to be silent and didn't have a voice (Cunningham, 2006). After the Second World War, children had greater importance to society as citizens as well as members of families but this didn't mean that they were seen as individuals (Hendrick, 1997). As the century progressed, attitudes did change due to factors such as improved standards of living, decline in strict religious views, new approaches in education and an increased respect for children's rights (Hendrick, 2003). Concern for the welfare of young people increased and led to new approaches to young offenders (Murray, 1983).

However, attitudes to children continued to differ widely. On one hand, children were regarded as special and the focus of society's attentions. On the other, children had no voice and were subject to exploitation. Power wasn't equal between adults and children; adults used their power to forward their own interests at the expense of children (Abrams, 1998).

There was also a tension between new understandings of children and the more long-standing view that linked neglect and deprivation with being depraved. Stein (2006) records that many young people in residential child care had no adults to turn to when they had been abused. The experiences of victims and survivors of abuse in residential child care reflected embedded social attitudes towards young people who were "troubled and troublesome" and were seen as a threat to society (Colton and others, 2002). Seeing children as threatening often led to the reality of their experiences as victims being disregarded by society. Contributors to our review identified this as an important issue and we return to it in later chapters.

New understandings of children

Greater understanding of the children's needs developed during this period through the work of psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists. Work undertaken between 1920 and the late 1940s by, for example, Burt on individual differences in children, and Isaacs on child development, was developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Bowlby's work on bonding and attachment was particularly important for new theoretical approaches to child welfare (Stevenson, 1998). These developments contributed to a greater awareness of children's well-being and mental health (Hendrick, 1997).

The new understandings of children and children's minds had an impact on child welfare in the 1950s and 1960s, influencing the professional practice of those working with children as well as public attitudes. However, there was some question about how and when these new understandings of children permeated through to professionals. Abrams (1998) suggests that it took until the 1960s before there was a major shift in child welfare services in Scotland, while Stevenson (1998) - reflecting on social work in England - states that learning from psychology didn't necessarily reach a wider group of social workers.

The Education (Mentally Handicapped Children) (Scotland) Act 1974 was an example of legislation which did reflect new understandings of children. At its heart was the basic principle that no child was "ineducable or untrainable". The Act led to teachers being appointed to work in junior occupational centres, day care centres and what were then known as "mental deficiency hospitals".

Children's rights

Children's rights did not emerge as a founding principle of children's services until towards the end of our review period. However the law began to incorporate limited elements of what we now recognise as children's rights as early as the 1908 Children Act. In 1924, the League of Nations passed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child followed by the United Nations' adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. The 1960s and 1970s brought a growing awareness of children's rights through people who spoke out for children's liberation and for more understanding of children's position in society (Archard, 1993; Franklin,1986). The UN designated 1979 the International Year of the Child which contributed to a developing awareness of children's rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) came into being in 1989 and was ratified by the UK government in 1991.

The slowly growing awareness of children's rights during the period of our review, was reflected in the introduction of the Children's Hearing system through the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. However that awareness didn't necessarily ensure a children's rights approach to services. Instead, the focus was still mainly on children's welfare, that is, on their needs, rather than their rights (Hill, Murray and Tisdall, 1998).This position continued until the Children (Scotland) Act in 1995, which was the first piece of legislation in Scotland to take greater account of children's rights in its principles. In the period since the UNCRC ratification in 1991 and the Children (Scotland) Act in 1995, there has been an increase in the understanding of children's rights at a professional level and, in a more moderate way, in public opinion.

The Cleveland Inquiry in England in the late 1980s highlighted that children's rights in care were poorly implemented. It indicated that professionals had not listened to children in the community (Asquith, 1983). Skinner's report 'Another Kind of Home' (1992) confirmed a clearer commitment to children's rights in care. This report emphasised that children's rights should be central to their care while they were looked after and that children should have a say.

There are examples, however, of a commitment to listening to children earlier in the review period. Our legal research has identified regulations that provided for children to be heard. Under 1930s legislation, visitors and inspectors could interview children. This was strengthened gradually but slowly over the period of our review. We return to this in chapter 4.

Families and parenting

Family practices of parenting and discipline evolved during the 1950s and 1960s, influenced by greater understanding of what children needed to help them develop. Research in the 1960s found that higher living standards had had an impact on families' well-being. There was a move away from strict discipline of children; children were able to communicate more easily with parents (Newson and Newson, 1965). Those who didn't fit the norms of good parenting were regarded as problem families. This, in turn, had an impact on how professionals worked with disadvantaged families.

In the 1970s the government debated the notion of the cycle of deprivation which proposed that people who lived on low incomes had few opportunities to escape from poverty According to this view, the problem was families' failings, rather than a lack of resources and inequalities arising from the structure of society (Holman, 1988). Families who abused children were considered as having some underlying condition, which meant that parents passed on poor child rearing practices from one generation to another (Parton, 1985; Holman, 1988). Between the 1970s and the 1990s the impact of increased unemployment and changes in family make-up had significant implications for society (Fox Harding, 1997).

Although child care experts in the 1930s had come to the view that corporal punishment was likely to do more harm than good, it was still very common after the war with the widely held view that physical punishment was a necessary part of rearing children. Discipline in the home and school was frequently harsh and society was generally in favour of it (Murphy 1992).

Corporal punishment continued in Scottish schools until it was banned in 1986, following a ruling of the European Court. Newson and Newson's studies on discipline, which they carried out in the 1960s and again 20 years later, showed that 81% of parents in the 1980s said they hit their children, but half thought they shouldn't (Newson and Newson, 1989). Physical punishment of children by adults was therefore a continuous backdrop during this period but its use diminished over time. The law on physical punishment was amended in Scotland in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. This didn't outlaw adults hitting children but did put some restrictions in place.

4. Reform in the 1960s: Kilbrandon and the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968

The 1960s saw major reform across Britain of how child welfare was administered. The Children and Young Persons Act 1963, which applied to England, Wales and Scotland, gave local authorities a duty to help families to keep children out of care (Murray and Hill, 1991). In 1950s Britain there was concern about the rising level of juvenile delinquency (Hendrick, 2003). This led to the different parts of Britain exploring how to respond to this trend.

In Scotland, the Kilbrandon Committee was established in 1961 to examine measures for dealing with young people who needed care and protection. The Kilbrandon Report (1964) was followed by the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. This brought together services that had previously been separate and established procedures for the children's hearings system. The new system aimed to make sure that children and young people didn't have to experience the adult criminal justice system. When children got into trouble the focus was on their needs, not their deeds. This approach was based on several principles that were linked to each other (Lockyer and Stone, 1998). These included:

  • what was in children's best interests;
  • the influence of home or wider environments;
  • a central emphasis on family and prevention

The new children's hearings system and unified social work departments, were seen as a radical departure for Scotland's child welfare system. The child centred approach to responding to children's needs anticipated a future children's rights focus to services (Lockyer and Stone, 1998).

5. Major changes that followed the 1960s

From 1969, reforms of the social work profession proceeded rapidly. The number of field social workers who had qualifications rose from 30% in 1969 to 97% in 1989 (Murphy, 1992). Local government re-organisation in Scotland in 1975 created nine regional and 53 district councils in addition to the three unitary island authorities. Regional councils were responsible for education and social work; district councils for housing and recreation.

Inquiries and concerns about child abuse in the 1970s,1980s and 1990s led to changes in policy and practice. The Cleveland abuse inquiry in England in the late 1980s and the Orkney inquiry in Scotland in 1991 revealed that it was difficult to protect children's rights while, at the same time, balancing parental rights and responsibilities (Asquith, 1993). The two inquiries added to more long-standing demands for changes in child care law, which reflected growing concern about poor quality care. There was a need (Asquith, 1993) to:

  • improve the knowledge base of professionals in child abuse;
  • explore the adequacy of training was for social workers;
  • ensure parents had the right to appeal quickly against children being removed from home; and
  • encourage the various agencies and organisations who were involved in providing services to work together effectively.

The Cleveland inquiry was followed by the Children Act (1989). This applied to England and Wales, although some aspects were relevant to Scotland in relation to children. To carry out a similar legal overhaul in Scotland, the Child Care Law Review Group was set up in 1988. The group recommended no substantial changes, but the Orkney 'scandal' and a child care inquiry in Fife awakened public concern. By the 1990s Scotland was following England in reforming child care laws, publishing a white paper 'Scotland's Children' in 1993. This presented the government's proposals for childcare policy and law in Scotland. It set out eight clear principles to "incorporate the philosophy of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child" (Scottish Office, 1993 p6) and, in turn, led to the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

By the 1990s, statutory bodies such as local authorities had a central role that was quite unrecognisable from the one they had at the beginning of the period of our review (Murray and Hill, 1991). Local government was re-organised in 1995 into 32 unitary authorities.

6. How society's views of child abuse developed

  • Changes in understanding of child abuse
  • Definitions of abuse
  • Historical abuse

Changes in understanding of child abuse

People's understanding of what child abuse was changed during the period of our review. Up to the late 1940s there was little recognition of abuse in the public mind (Abrams, 1998). But this didn't mean that child abuse was a new phenomenon. Rather, people's focus in the early 20th century was on delinquency, neglect and so-called problem families, rather than on abuse (Parton, 1979).

From the 1960s to the mid 1980s, child abuse began to be more widely known, with greater understanding of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. What was then termed "battered baby syndrome" was prominent in the 1960s, but was largely a medical profession concern. Social workers continued to focus on neglect and casework with the family (Parton, 1979). In Scotland, child abuse was not well developed as a professional or public concept; indeed the first professional course in childcare only became available in 1960 (Murphy, 1992).

Child abuse was given a high profile by the inquiry into the death of seven-year-old Maria Colwell, who died after being beaten in the early 1970s (Fox Harding, 1997). The inquiry report signalled a change in child welfare and public attitudes to abuse. It also sharply highlighted society's anxieties about the family and increasing violence and permissiveness (Stevenson, 1998; Parton,1985). There was a lot of public debate on child abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. However there was little reliable evidence that could help to identify the most effective form of intervention. Parton (1985) reports social workers feeling inadequate to the task of dealing with child abuse as there were so many contradictions in determining abuse.

The focus on child abuse in the 1980s raised questions about whether child abuse had increased during this period or if there was simply greater awareness of its existence. In the 1980s, inquiries began to focus on sexual abuse, with the Cleveland and Orkney inquiries the most prominent. By the 1990s, awareness of child abuse had moved to the experience of those who had been living in residential care (Colton and others, 2002).

Definitions of abuse

The Department of Health, summarising child protection research, comments on the many definitions of abuse and the importance of the context in which the abuse takes place. This highlights the difficulty of identifying abuse, as what people might consider normal at one time they might consider abnormal at another (Department of Health, 1995).

Defining child abuse, therefore, is complex; what the term covers has evolved over time and continues to evolve. Gil provides the following definition:

"Any act of commission or omission by individuals, institutions or society as a whole, and any conditions resulting from such acts or inaction, which deprive children of equal rights and liberties, and/or interfere with their optimal development" (Gil, 1970, p.16)

The Scottish Office's guidance document 'Protecting Children - a Shared Responsibility' (1998) defines five categories of child abuse: physical, sexual, non-organic failure to thrive (this describes children who fail to develop normally but no physical or genetic reasons explain why), emotional and physical neglect.

The literature review at Appendix 2 states that "institutional abuse" can be defined as any kind of child abuse described in these five categories that happens in an institutional setting such as a residential school or children's home. However, there has been debate and disagreement about definitions of institutional abuse (Stanley and others, 1999). One
of the most commonly used definitions is by Gil (1982) who differentiates between three forms of abuse:

  • overt or direct abuse of a child by a care worker;
  • programme abuse of children due to approaches taken in that setting; and
  • system abuse, where the childcare system has failed to meet children's needs.

In terms of the focus of this review, historical abuse refers to abuse that has taken place in the past. The Lothian and Borders Joint Police/Social Work Protocol identifies historical abuse as that which:

"…will include all allegations of maltreatment whether of serious neglect or of a sexual or of a physical nature which took place before the victim(s) was/were 16 years (or aged 18 in some circumstances) and which are made after a significant time has elapsed" (Lothian and Borders and others, 2001, p.5)

These different definitions highlight the complexity of defining abuse. In the context of our review, it is important to identify the responsibilities of adults and institutions to protect children's welfare and rights as well as to take account of prevailing attitudes to children, child abuse and childcare. I sought to do so in this report.

Historical abuse

Is it fair to judge what happened 30 or more years ago on the basis of what is known as abuse today?

One complication is that knowledge and understanding about what actually happened to children in children's residential establishments are limited, particularly in the earlier years of the review period. There was little research and public awareness about abuse of children in institutions until the 1980s. The voices of people who lived in children's residential establishments have not had prominence within Scotland, so very little is known about the extent and type of abuse that took place years ago.

It is also evident that past abuse - whether society accepted it as normal or not - remains abuse, and that certain practices we recognise as abusive today were also regarded as unacceptable practices hundreds of years ago. For example, in 1669 a children's petition suggested that teachers who resorted to corporal punishment were "taking on them an office which they have not the ability to manage". In 1889, militant schoolboys met on London's Albert Embankment; one of their demands was "No Cane" (The Heatherbank Museum of Social Work, Factsheet 12, University of Glasgow Caledonia Archives).

To suggest that what society accepted as normal should determine practices that we consider abusive today, is to overlook that children in state care were entitled to protection by law . The Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, for example, provided most of the fundamental regulation for the welfare and protection of children and young people during the 1950s and 1960s, making it an offence to harm children. Importantly, this Act shows what was known to be harmful to children in 1937.

The Children Act 1948 which followed imposed a general duty on local authorities to ensure that they '…exercise their powers with respect to him so as to further his best interests, and to afford him opportunity for the proper development if his character and abilities' (Section 12.1). The principle of a child's best interests is also fundamental to the Children (Scotland) 1995 Act, which currently applies, and the UNCRC.

The review found evidence of people who, in the 1950s and onwards in Scotland, showed concern about children's welfare and opposed practices such as corporal punishment. For example, the managers of a voluntary children's home in the 1950s record in their minute book that they took

"a serious view of behaviour recorded in the School Log Book on the part of Mr. X, a housemaster, in the punishment of one of his boys and having also heard from Mr G (note: a committee member) of Mr M's behaviour witnessed by him on another occasion instructed the Warden to take steps to dismiss Mr M."

Just as we don't know the extent of abuse in children's residential establishments, we don't know how many people working directly with children had concerns about their welfare. Evidence does show, however, that some adults had such concerns and recognised certain practices, or adult behaviour toward children, as inappropriate and abusive. What remains unknown - which is what I've tried to understand in this review - is why these concerns didn't prevent children from being harmed while in residential places.

7. How residential child care changed after 1948

  • Attitudes to residential child care
  • Residential child care and child emigration after 1945
  • Attitudes to residential child care

Residential care wasn't the preferred option for children after the 1948 Children Act. The influence of the work of Bowlby (1951), who emphasised the importance of a child's attachment to its mother, reinforced a preference for foster care for children unable to live with their parents. This resulted in, for example, a large number of residential nurseries being closed in Britain, although Edinburgh still had residential nursery places in 1973 (White, 1973). The 'Edinburgh Report' for 1954 required that: "careful investigation takes place before children are separated from their parents" (quoted in White, 1973, pp.171-172). In Scotland, where fostering had long been the preferred choice with 61% of children boarded out in 1949, the situation continued largely unchanged. In 1968, of children in care, 58% were still boarded out (White, 1973). Only 16% of those in residential care in 1968 were in local authority, rather than voluntary sector, care (White, 1973).

At the beginning of the 20th century, most children in residential child care in Scotland were orphans (Abrams, 1998; Magnusson, 1984). During the first half of the century, the proportion of children coming into care who had parents still living but who were unable or unwilling to provide appropriate care for them, grew. This number continued to grow after 1948. Illegitimacy became a significant reason for children coming into care, with the proportion of children higher in Scotland than England and Wales (White, 1973). Residential care was used where foster care wasn't appropriate, mainly for older children, those with disabilities and those with severe problems (Tresiliotis, 1988, Frost and others, 1999). After 1948, residential child care improved; homes were smaller and had better buildings and furnishings. Family group homes were developed. Progress was also made in providing children with food, clothes, activities and facilities comparable to those that other children enjoyed (Sen, Kendrick, Milligan and Hawthorn, 2007).

Research literature has little information about changes in the residential sector across Scotland during this period. However White's study (1973) shows that developments in the residential sector varied considerably by region. He notes that, in Edinburgh, the local authority took up to 20 years to respond to the ideas behind the Clyde Report and the 1948 Children Act. The size and use of homes in Edinburgh remained the same. Family group homes were developed, but only from 1962 onward.

Children's Committees in England improved practice by forbidding inhumane practices such as shutting children in dark cupboards, using excessive corporal punishment and depriving them of proper food (Packman, 1981). Evidence of comparable progress in Scotland wasn't available to us. But perhaps an indication of progress was the action of one residential home
in Scotland which held its first Boys' and Girls' Council in 1967 to allow the children to have some say in the running of their home (Magnusson, 1984). Local authorities, through child care committees, were viewed as having a positive influence on children's emotional development, regulating punishment and strengthening the child-centred focus of residential child care.

The literature on residential child care between 1945 and 1970 portrays a period of optimism, reflecting confidence in the ability of public intervention to make a positive difference to children's lives (Corby and others, 2001; Hendrick, 2003; Milligan, 2005; Packman, 1981). But underneath this optimism there seems to have been some concern. In the 1960s, preventative work with families focused on keeping children with families, while there was increasing criticism of institutional settings (Goffman, 1961; Foucault, 1973). There was little research into children's experiences in residential establishments and where it existed, it wasn't always encouraging (Tresiliotis,1988). A study of 44 children's units found that "a sizeable proportion of children have a comparatively poor experience of daily care
in residential life" (Berry, 1975, p.157).

In the late 1970s there were fewer residential establishments for children (Crimmins and Milligan, 2005).

This reflected:

  • lower government spending;
  • continuing reservations about the suitability of residential child care; and
  • the emphasis on keeping children with their families.

The number of children in residential child care in Scotland fell from 6,209 in 1977 to 2,364 in 1989 (from Kendrick and Fraser, 1992). The largest decrease was in the number of children under 12 years in residential establishments.

In the 1990s, the number of children in residential child care in England continued to fall, with an average length of stay decreasing from two years in 1985 to 10 months in 1995 (Berridge and Brodie, 1998). The number of residential establishments also reduced, with homes becoming smaller and larger residential schools dividing into smaller units.

In the 21st century, most of Scotland's local authorities continue to directly manage at least one residential children's home. There is a small number of private providers. There is a large number of residential schools run mainly by the voluntary sector (Sen,Kendrick, Milligan and Hawthorn, 2007). The size, style and management of residential care facilities have changed strikingly over our 45-year review period. The research literature indicates an increasing awareness not only of the physical needs of children in care, but also of their emotional and psychological well-being and their human rights.

Residential child care and child emigration after 1945

We have also noted child emigration from residential child care - mainly to Canada, but also to Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - which continued up to 1967. This practice, which began in 1869 in England, was taken up in Scotland by William Quarrier in 1872. There were strongly held economic, political and religious reasons for child emigration and these ensured public support for it. But concerns about the welfare of the migrant children was expressed as early as 1875 and continued, prompting the introduction of the Ontario Act 1897, which provided for greater monitoring and regulation of child emigration schemes. Around 150,000 British children were sent abroad. The exact numbers of children sent from Scottish residential institutions isn't known, however 7,000 child emigrants were sent by Quarrier's, 50 from Aberlour, 200 from Whinwell Children's Home in Stirling and an unknown number from Scottish local authority establishments (Abrams, 1998).

While the number of children sent after the war was comparatively small, some suffered severe abuse. Those sent to Australia suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse. On top of this, the level of care that many received consistently failed to meet basic needs (The Australian Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee 2001; Bean and Melville, 1989; House of Commons, Health Committee, 1997-98; Humphreys, 1994; Gill,1998).

With good reason, Bean and Melville comment that the "history of child migration in Australia is in many ways a history of cruelty, lies and deceit" (1989, p.111). Children were told their parents were dead when they weren't. Family members weren't told that children were being sent abroad or were misinformed about the nature of the scheme. Family members' objections to a child being sent were overridden. Contact between the children and their family in Britain was discouraged, with letters censored and sometimes withheld. And siblings sent to Australia together were frequently separated when they arrived (Bean and Melville 1989; BBC Radio 4, 2003 a).

In the UK there were concerns about child migration schemes from just after the war. While earlier waves of child migration had been greeted with fanfare and publicity, those after the war were undertaken with as little of either as possible (Abrams, 1998). In response to the concerns the 1948 Children Act contained regulations specific to child emigration. For example, the Home Secretary had to approve the emigration of each child and be persuaded it was in their best interests. The child's parents had to be consulted and, if this wasn't possible, the child had to give clear consent.

The Lord Chancellor, Viscount Jowitt, in the Parliament's debate on the bill that led to the Children Act 1948, gave explicit assurances that the Home Office would ensure no child would be sent abroad "unless there is absolute satisfaction that proper arrangements have been made for the care and upbringing of each child." The extent to which this assurance proved hollow is striking. The conditions awaiting the child emigrants in Australia received low priority: the first formal government assessment of these conditions was only carried out in 1956. The inter-departmental committee on migration policy was highly critical of the care provided to child migrants in Australia (Bean and Melville, 1989).

In Scotland, the Scottish Office refused permission for a number of children to be sent abroad on the grounds it was it was not in their interests. It gave permission for a child to emigrate only after its parents' consent had been received (Abrams, 1998).

By 1956 it was widely accepted that young people would be better off in residential child care homes than being sent overseas, so few local authorities sent children after this time, although some voluntary organisations continued to do so. By the 1960s the prevailing public opinion was against these emigration schemes and they ceased in 1967.

The House of Commons Health Committee inquiry (1997-98) on child migration and the Australian Senate Inquiry (2001) Report into the treatment of child migrants in Australia recognised the abuse that many child migrants had suffered. Both inquiries attributed collective responsibility for the abuse to all the governments and agencies that had been involved in the child migration schemes.

8. Abuse in residential child care 1948-1990

  • Awareness of child abuse in residential child care 1948-1990
  • Major inquiries into abuse in residential child care after 1990
  • The evidence of abuse in residential child care in the UK
  • Abuse of young people by other young people
  • Factors in abuse in residential child care

Awareness of child abuse in residential child care 1948-1990

Child abuse wasn't a major public concern up to the early 1960s (Hendrick, 2003). As I've highlighted, this began to change following awareness of what became known as battered baby syndrome in the 1960s. The focus on abuse across the UK in the early part of the period was on children living in their parents' care, rather than children living in residential establishments. Public recognition of child abuse in institutions began in USA in 1977 (Gil and Baxter 1979) but was slower to develop in the UK. It wasn't until 1990 that awareness of institutional abuse increased in research literature and among the public (Bibby, 1996; Corby and others, 2001; Kendrick, 1997; Stanley, 1999). Little of what was written before 1970 referred to child abuse. Between 1970s and the late 1980s there was no significant mention of institutional child abuse.

The Kilbrandon Report (1964), which established the children's hearing system, didn't refer to abuse in residential child care but did criticise approved schools because too many children were admitted. These children were sometimes too young, had what was then called a 'mental handicap' or were placed because nowhere else was more suitable. Kilbrandon noted that the public viewed approved schools as punitive although he didn't agree with this perspective.

Concern about harsh corporal punishment had been raised since the late 1940s, although it wasn't called abuse. While the Criminal Justice Act of 1948 removed courts' ability to sentence young people to be birched, corporal punishment remained legal in children's homes in Scotland until The Social Work (Residential Establishments - Child Care) (Scotland) Regulations 1987 came into effect (Black and Williams, 2002). Strathclyde Regional Council's Report 'Room to Grow' (1978/9) considered childcare and relevant social policy in the region. Although no reference is made to abuse, the report did recommend that no instrument should be used to administer corporal punishment. It was also unsure about the appropriateness of smacking children reflecting public views at the time. The majority of staff thought some smacking was necessary but they were against violence to children.

Child sexual abuse only really became a significant issue for the public in the mid 1980s. The 'Second Report from the Social Services Committee' referred to its existence, highlighting: "there is now some professional awareness of the extent and effects of sexual abuse" ( HMSO, 1984, Para 52). Government guidance for Scotland acknowledged sexual abuse only in 1986 (Directors of Social Work in Scotland, 1992). A small number of publications at the time mentioned sexual attraction in residential child care (Anthony, 1958 in Todd, 1968; Henry, 1965; Will,1971). Kahan (2000) says the response to sexually inappropriate behaviour by staff was to move the offender. Managing the incident in-house was seen as the preferred option to avoid bad publicity and minimise disruption. Holman (1996) reported that from 1948 to 1971 there were six internal investigations into alleged sexual abuse by Manchester Children's Department. While noting that these were promptly investigated, he adds: "actual or suspected abusers were swiftly pushed out but rarely prosecuted" (Holman, 1996, p.180). Davis (1980) considered what would be appropriate if a young person made an allegation of sexual misconduct against a staff member. He would prefer such incidents to be "bravely and professionally examined internally" although in some cases the staff member was dismissed and the police informed. These different examples highlight that, although sexual abuse was not a public concern at this time, it was still recognised that staff could be sexually attracted to children. There was still no dominant approach to dealing with what would now be termed sexual abuse.

To give children and young people in care a voice, the National Children's Bureau organised a conference in 1975 where young people in England and Wales could describe their experiences. As a result, the 'Who Cares? Young People's Working Group' was set up, subsequently producing a publication. Contributors referred to positive experiences as well as revealing a range of abuse, both emotional and physical, which they and others had endured in residential child care (Page and Clark, 1977). The editors commented on the young people's puzzlement that they should suffer mistreatment in places that were meant to protect them. While their accounts of humiliating punishment and physical abuse are graphic and disturbing, there was no evidence of any formal investigations or of any steps to ensure that incidents didn't happen again. However the young people commented that some staff were sacked (Page and Clark, 1977). The picture painted by Kahan (1979) of the experiences of 10 adults who had been in residential care from 1948 to 1969, is very similar to the children's descriptions of humiliating abuse and of their complaints being disregarded.

In the 1980s some attention was being paid to the rights of those living in residential care. Clough (1982) recommended a code of practice, residents' participation and a range of measures such as complaints procedures and inspection to ensure that residential establishments used good practice and were seen to be well run.

As in other cases, a scandal that was widely reported in the media highlighted abuse in residential child care. In 1981, three staff from the Kincora Boys' Hostel in Belfast were jailed for a series of sexual assaults. In 1985 the officer in charge of Leeways Children's Home in Lewisham was convicted of indecency. The inquiry into the Kincora 'scandal' uncovered a long history of offences and a failure to investigate allegations of abuse (Corby and others, 2001). The Leeways inquiry also found a long history of abuse (Corby and others, 2001).

Despite these revelations, it was still widely believed that these were one-off cases rather than indicating any wider systemic problem, "aberrations rather than the tip of the iceberg", according to Hopton and Glennister (Butler and Drakeford, 2003). An inquiry into excessive physical restraint used at Melanie Klein House for Girls in 1988 passed with little public comment.

Major inquiries into abuse in residential child care after 1990

There were 72 inquiries in the UK between 1945 and 1996 (Corby and others, 2001). However, it's worth noting that Scotland had only two major enquiries into abuse in residential child care, both after the period of my review. These were the Edinburgh Inquiry in 1999 and the Fife Inquiry in 2002. There were, however, two major reviews: 'Another Kind of Home, a review of residential child care' (Skinner,1992); and the 'Children's Safeguards Review' (Kent, 1997).

Abuse in residential child care had begun to gain attention at the end of the 1980s. The Children Act 1989 in England and Wales was the first law that recognised institutional child abuse in the UK. The 1991 'Working Together under the Children Act' guidance included sections on the abuse of children living away from home (Creighton 1992). The previous guidance issued in 1988 had only contained one sentence on the subject.

Public interest in abuse in residential care rose and dwindled in the 1980s until what became known as "pindown" hit the headlines in 1991. This practice involved punishing children who had absconded or who refused to attend school by confining them in a sparsely furnished room and depriving them of their possessions and all company. The practice had operated in children's homes in Staffordshire from 1983 to 1989. It had been devised and openly implemented by managers and senior management. A television programme exposing the practice led to a damning inquiry (Stanley, 1999). The Utting Report (1991) into residential care in England was a direct consequence of the Pindown Report. In considering abuse, it recognised that "children in residential care are vulnerable to exploitation by adults and to both physical and sexual abuse" and "may need protection from other children as well as from adults" (Utting 1991).

In Scotland 'Another Kind of Home' (Skinner 1992) set out to examine what residential child care was being provided and of what quality. It also considered training, control and sanctions, children's rights and inspection. While it didn't focus specifically on abuse, this topic did arise in relation to issues such as complaints procedures. In a section on complaints, Skinner recommended that there should be an independent element of any investigation into allegations of abuse by staff. Police should be informed if there was 'reasonable cause to believe that a child may have been the victim of abuse'.

A series of high-profile cases of cruelty and sexual abuse in England and Wales occurred in the 1990s. There were inquiries into an approved school in Wales, an independent special school for boys in England and a regime put in place by an officer in charge of children's homes in England. These contributed to a government decision to commission reports into the dangers faced by children living away from home and the different forms of protection provided to them.

In Scotland, the Scottish Office commissioned the Kent Report (1997) to consider the dangers faced by children living away from home. The report would also consider evidence of different kinds of abuse against them, and what safeguards existed. Kent noted the worrying number of cases of abuse being brought to Scottish courts and warned against complacency. The Report, published in 1997, had 61 recommendations. Some twenty of these recommendations are ones that the review recognises as being of particular significance to its work. These include;

  • complaints procedures;
  • vetting staff;
  • the responsibility and accountability of staff to report concerns about children's well-being;
  • keeping staff files for not less than 20 years; and
  • external monitoring.

In Wales, in 1996, a Tribunal of Inquiry into allegations of abuse in children's homes in Gwynedd and Clwyd found that there was widespread sexual abuse of young boys in several homes and physical abuse ( Corby and others, 2001; Parton 2006; Waterhouse 2000). It also concluded that some men were targeting teenage boys within and outwith the homes for paedophilic activities and that many of these paedophiles were known to each other and met together.

As I've noted, the two independent inquiries into residential care in Scotland were the Edinburgh Inquiry in 1999 and the Fife Inquiry in 2002. The Edinburgh Inquiry was set up when two men were convicted of sexual abuse of children living in children's homes in Edinburgh and Lothian between 1973 and 1987. The inquiry team had to investigate whether victims' complaints had been properly handled in the past, to investigate how adequate procedures were at the time to protect children and to determine what further safeguards were needed.

The inquiry report included recommendations to provide further safeguards which relate to matters relevant to this review. These include:

  • staff recruitment;
  • staff training;
  • staff resignations;
  • appropriate and clear record-keeping of incidents involving young people;
  • prioritising whistleblowing;
  • meeting young people to raise concerns about management; and
  • authorised visitors.

The Fife Inquiry followed the conviction of an employee in Elie and Leven on 30 charges of sexual abuse of children from 1959 to 1989. Allegations were made against this person in the early 1970s but no steps had been taken to prosecute him, even though the police had been informed. Even though he was suspended from his first post, he was allowed to work elsewhere as a social work assistant and indeed be appointed as housefather in a residential school.

The recommendations of this inquiry also emphasised the need to:

  • make staff recruitment and selection processes more rigorous;
  • improve and maintain staff awareness of abuse issues and safeguarding children; and
  • provide ways for children and young people to express their views about their care.

Other recommendations included better inspection and monitoring processes for care facilities.

Other allegations have been made of historic abuse in residential child care in Scotland, some leading to convictions. Many claims for compensation have been made.

The evidence of abuse in residential child care in the UK

The National Association of Young People in Care made an early attempt to highlight abuse in the care system. They found that 65% of a sample of 50 young people who had made complaints to them in a three-month period had been sexually abused while in care. Over 75% reported physical abuse while in care.

The NSPCC carried out a survey of its teams and projects in March 1992. The authors (Westcott and Clement 1992) acknowledged that the sample was unrepresentative and that the cases identified were particularly severe. They identified 84 cases of alleged abuse in residential or educational settings over the previous year. Of these, 63% were male and 88% were aged 10-17. Most had suffered sexual abuse. In 50% of the cases, the perpetrator was a peer and in 43% a member of staff. Of the staff perpetrators, 81% were male and most were aged over 40.

In 1995 an analysis of calls made to Childline in England, Wales and Scotland provided more evidence of abuse in residential establishments over the first six months of the line's operation (1992-1993). Bullying and violence from other residents were reported as was sexual abuse, perpetrated by both residents and staff.

The most comprehensive survey of institutional abuse in England and Wales was carried out by Gallagher, Hughes and Parker in 1996 in a national survey of organised sexual abuse. This defined institutional abuse as "a case in which an adult has used the institutional framework of an organisation for children to recruit children for sexual abuse." While the authors had doubts about the reliability of all their findings, they reported that, of the 211 cases submitted, there were 45 cases of institutional abuse and 16 (8%) were in residential establishments.

Other research dealing more generally with residential child care has provided some information on abuse. Grimshaw and Berridge (1994 ) in their study of 67 children who had been in residential special schools for at least a year, concluded that: "For a proportion of the children, admission to a residential school did not mean that they were fully protected from abusive experiences." The research found that 20% of the children were reported to have experienced some form of suspected or confirmed abuse.

A comment by Lindsay in 1997 in a Scottish context is worth repeating here: "[A]buse by staff is not a great problem in frequency of occurrence, but it is a great problem in terms of the seriousness of the offence, and of the uncertainty and anxiety the whole issue causes throughout the service as a whole."

Abuse of young people by other young people

Reported evidence tells of children bullying other children whom they described as "different". A 1992 survey of 84 children in the UK found that over 50% of the reported abusers were the victim's peers. In 1999, MacLeod estimated that over 50% of sexual assaults against children and young people in care could be committed by other children and young people. The 'Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Children and Young People who Sexually Abuse Other Children' (1992), identified that children needed to be appropriately placed to protect them from further abuse. Despite this, a 1999 survey showed that this had been done in fewer than one third of cases studied. The same survey found that, in fewer than 50% of cases, information about a young person's history of abusing or of being abused was passed on to carers at the start of a placement.

The most detailed piece of research on this form of abuse was conducted by Barter and her colleagues in 14 English children's homes (Barter, 2007; Barter and others, 2004). They interviewed 71 young people aged 8-17 and 71 residential staff members. Their research aim was to clarify the context within which particular types of violence occur, rather than to measure how frequently violent incidents happened. They identified (Baxter, 2007, p.141) four forms of peer violence:

  • direct physical assault, such as punching, grabbing hair and beatings;
  • physical, non-contact attacks, which harmed young people emotionally rather than physically, for example, destruction of personal belongings;
  • verbal abuse; and
  • unwelcome sexual behaviour, such as flashing, inappropriate touching and rape.

Factors in abuse in residential child care

Research has identified various factors that may lead or contribute to abuse in residential child care. These factors suggest areas which need to be addressed so that children can be safeguarded in residential settings. They are grouped and summarised below.

a) Denial of abuse

  • An attitude of "It can't happen here" (Bloom, 1992, p133).
  • Reluctance to report incidents of abuse because of fear of damaging the institution's reputation and possible loss of credibility, referrals and licence (Durkin, 1982a; 1982b; Gil and Baxter, 1979; Harrell and Orem, 1980; Powers, Mooney and Nunno, 1990).

b) Children's isolation and vulnerability

  • Social isolation can reduce the chance of identifying the abuse (Berridge and Brodie, 1996) and can lead to resistance to experiences and ideas from outside ( Levy and Kahan, 1991, p.154).
  • The institution can be isolated from the wider network of care (Doran and Brannan, 1996).
  • Physical and geographical isolation reduces the likelihood of visits from professionals and family, so there is greater potential for the denial of abuse (Hughes, 1986; Levy and Kahan, 1991, Kirkwood, 1993; Marshall and others, 1999).
  • Entering residential care reinforces children's feelings of not belonging to society, leading to feelings of displacement, loss and lack of control. (Hayden, Goddard, Gorin and Van Der Spek, 1999; Kendrick, 2005).
  • Children are particularly isolated, especially because of the power imbalance between adults and children in residential establishments, and this increases children's vulnerability (Westcott, 1991; Nunno and Motz, 1988; Stein, 2006; Wardhaugh and Wilding, 1993).
  • Children's feelings of isolation inhibit them from reporting abuse (Hughes, 1986; Levy and Kahan, 1991, Kirkwood, 1993; Waterhouse, 2000).
  • Children in institutions can feel insecure and be slower to develop, which can make them more reliant on adults (Siskind, 1986, p.15). Disabled children are particularly vulnerable (Doran and Brannan, 1996; Kendrick, 1997; Marshall, 1999; Stanley, 1999; Stein, 2006).
  • Isolation of residential homes can mean that the public has an incomplete picture. (Colton, 2002).

c) Management and organisation

  • Management failure and the absence of clear lines of accountability have been identified as factors in institutional abuse (Wardhaugh and Wardling, 1993).
  • An administrative style, which discourages staff and residents from taking part in decision-making, has been identified with patterns of institutional abuse ( Siskind, 1986).
  • Reliance on theoretical or ideological models tends to distance and dehumanise relationships between the residents and the staff. (Siskind, 1986; Wardhaugh and Wilding, 1993).
  • An oppressor mentality promotes hostility towards women, children or minorities (Siskind,1986; Wardaugh and Wilding, 1993).

(d) Training and conditions of residential staff

n In 1946 the Curtis Committee stated that staff training was highly important in improving the quality of residential child care. However, by the time of the Williams Committee census in 1963, only 15% of staff in local authority children's establishments had the appropriate childcare qualifications and 70% had no formal qualifications (Packman 1981, p.43). The Skinner and Kent Reports stressed the need for training. But major concerns continued about the rate of progress in training residential staff and ensuring they've attained the qualifications necessary for registration (Colton, 2002).

  • Recent cross-national, comparative research clearly links the level of qualification of residential child care staff with the outcomes and well-being of children and young people in residential care. (Cameron and Boddy, 2007)
  • Institutional work over time may bring out the worst in childcare workers (Durkin, 1982a; Baldwin, 1990, p. 150).
  • Residential workers are often overworked and underpaid and have little say in decision-making (Baldwin, 1990; Gil and Baxter, 1979; Nunno and Rindfleisch, 1991; Wardhaugh and Wilding, 1993).
  • Hierarchical structures in institutions make it difficult for front-line staff to register complaints (Wardhaugh and Wilding, 1993).
  • Care workers suffering from burn-out may abuse children and develop increasingly negative attitudes towards them (Edwards and Miltenberger, 1991; Maslach and Jackson, 1981; Mattingly, 1981; Stein, 2006).

e) Sexuality, gender and the targetting of residential care

The lack of a focus on gender and sexuality in relation to the abuse of children and young people in residential child care has been highlighted by a number of authors (Green, 2005; O'Neill. 2007)

The anxieties of residential child care staff in dealing with sexuality have been highlighted as also have been the implications of this for practice.

  • Pringle discusses the broader issues of abuse by men (Pringle, 1993, p.16) arguing: "if the male potential for abuse is so organically linked to both masculinity and entrenched patriarchal structures, as suggested in this paper, then the role of men in care services must be questioned".
  • Berridge and Brodie (1996) found a macho, or masculine, culture to be a significant factor in the reports of three inquiries they examined. Wolmar (2000) argued that the increase in the number of male staff in residential homes after the 1960s was a major factor in abuse at that time. Male staff are necessary as good role models but where they are employed, greater safeguards against abuse are needed (Wolmar, 2000 in Colton, 2002).
  • Research shows that paedophiles target work settings and activities that will give them access to children whom they can abuse (Gallagher, 2000; Sullivan and Beech, 2002).

(f) Status of residential child care and children in residential child care

Much of the literature we reviewed alludes to the stigma attached to residential child care and the continuing connection in the public mind with the poorhouse and Poor Law aid. Abrams (1998) refers to the boys and girls in a children's home as "Scotland's forgotten children". The widespread assumption is that only so-called problem children are sent to a children's residential establishment. The assumption that residential child care was the option of last resort made it very difficult for the sector to function well. The high-profile scandals in some residential facilities have given rise to the notion that children are more likely to be abused in residential care than in foster care or other institutions. The available evidence, which admittedly isn't very extensive, doesn't support this view. There is evidence from research (Lambert and Millham 1968) and Childline that abuse occurs in other institutional child care settings - for example, in boarding schools - but class and socio-economic factors work against the reputation of residential care services.

9. My conclusions

This chapter's aim has been to present the historical background to attitudes to children and children based in residential care. In doing so, I've identified a number of issues:

  • Looking back over a long period of time poses difficulties, such as:
    • the risk of imposing 21st century perspectives;
    • having to look at what preceded the review period; and
    • children's perspectives not having been recorded.
  • There's a lack of consistent evidence:
    • there's a scarcity of research material in Scotland about children's lives, about how changes in society have impacted on them, and about children's experiences in residential care.
  • Attitudes to children have changed:
    • attitudes changed gradually. The early emphasis on welfare was complemented by concerns to meet children's needs and, later, to listen to them and take account of their views. However, the full acknowledgement in law of children's rights wasn't achieved until the 1990s.
  • Attitudes to punishment have been inconsistent:
    • people raised concerns about harsh punishment throughout the period of our review, yet corporal punishment was retained for most of the time.
  • The understanding of what constituted abuse changed:
    • child abuse took place but wasn't always acknowledged.
    • public awareness of abuse in residential child care developed later in the review period, yet evidence indicates that abuse was known about from the beginning of the period.
  • There was a lack of qualified staff and carers:
    • it was common for staff and carers to have no qualifications, little or no organised training and to work unsupervised.
  • Procedures for selecting and assessing staff, and for dealing with staff who abused children, were inadequate:
    • procedures weren't rigorous enough and the ways of dealing with staff who abused children were wholly inadequate.
  • Residential child care had low status:
    • the status of residential child care remained low, as did its priority in the public mind.