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Task Force and Help for victims of abuse in Children's homes.

By Charlene Sweeney, the Times, 23/11/2007

Politics Scotland

Times Online

Report calls for centre to offer counselling

Many of the problems uncovered remain

A centre should be set up to help former victims of abuse in children's homes, a report says.

It also suggests that a 'national task group' should be created to oversee services for children in care and for those living in residential homes. The recommendations are made in a report ordered by the Scottish Executive into abuse in children´┐Żs homes across Scotland.

The report by Tom Shaw, former Chief Inspector of Education, Northern Ireland focuses on the period from 1950 to 1995, the child regulations in place over that period and how these were enforced.

Mr Shaw's finding's, published yesterday, are that, despite extensive and complex legislation, the requirements were not wholly effective in ensuring children's safety and welfare. He gave warning that even with improved monitoring and inspection, many of the problems that he investigated remain a feature of child protection.

The centre proposed by his report would help former victims to find counselling and other services, carry out research into children's residential homes, and maintain a database of all past and present children's residential establishments in Scotland.

Among the duties the duties of the national task force would be overseeing the services provided for children in care and in accommodation, studying ways of improving their welfare, and reporting to the Education Committee at Holyrood.

It would be tasked with reporting annually on progress, auditing the recommendations of previous reviews, and determining whether outstanding action is required.

Mr Shaw's report highlights an urgent need to preserve old records and to ensure that former residents get access to them.

"The Government should commission a review of public records legislation which would lead to new legislation being drafted to meet records and information needs in Scotland," the report says. This should make certain that no legislation impedes people's lawful access to records.



Orphans at Quarriers Homes, Renfrewshire, in the 1920s. A group has campaigned for children abused at the home.


For David Whelan, 50 the report has dredged up disturbing memories, but he hopes that it is a step towards reconciliation for those abused in children's homes.

Mr Whelan is a member of the Boys and Girls abused at Quarriers group, which has raised awareness of the mistreatment of those in the children's home in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire.

Mr Whelan, who suffered sexual abuse in the home from 1969 to 1974, between the ages of 10and 15, urged ministers to take strong action in response to the report. He said: "I believe that, if the Scottish Government is serious about dealing with these issues, the only way they can demonstrate this is by implementing fully Tom Shaw's recommendations."

Mr Whelan, who now lives in the South of England, said that many victims had mental health issues and would benefit from the centre proposed by the report.

He recounted how he had struggled with mental health problems himself, and experienced a breakdown after a harrowing Court Case against the man who had abused him.

After leaving the home, he repressed the memories of his experiences for nearly 30 years. He recalled the abuse when he was contacted by the wife of John Porteous, who had asked him if he would act as a character witness. Mr Whelan testified against him, alongside other witnesses, and Porteous was jailed for eight years, later reduced to on appeal to five.

Elizabeth McWilliams,70, who was in the same home from 1939 to 1954, also praised the report. She described how she was forced to work from 5am to 8pm seven days a week. "My life has been ruined to this very day". She said. "Am I going to get closure, am I even going to get an apology?"

She said that organisations should be named and shamed to prevent a similar scandal from happening again.

Today's report has its origins in a Holyrood debate in 2004 in which Jack McConnell , then First Minister, publicly apologised for children who were abused in care.

The Executive had already ruled out an inquiry into allegations of abuse in Scotland's residential homes dating back to the 1940s. But the Holyrood Public Petitions Committee insisted that the scandal warranted a debate in Parliament.

During the debate, Mr McConnell issued an apology and pledged that his administration would shed more light on "the national shame" of the abuse of children in care homes. This led to the appointment in 2005 of Mr Shaw, who set out to review records and speak to individuals - but not to investigate individual cases.

As much of the inquiry deals with a period when child protection legislation was not as stringent as it is now, the report cautions against imposing 21st century views on what happened in the past.

"The law did not insist that residential care staff should be suitably qualified and there was no national vetting system."

Attitudes towards punishment, it points out, have changed through the decades and although abuse was known about during the study period public awareness did not develop until the 1980s.

Furthermore, the law did not insist that residential staff should be suitably qualified and there was no national vetting system or national care standards. Mr Shaw's report says that the task of identifying how residential school and children's homes were monitored in practice as distinct to what the law said should be done proved "very difficult".

Records were scattered across organisations and archives, and some potentially useful information was destroyed as new practices were introduced.

The report suggests that existing records should be archived as a research resource. But it admits that the findings are unlikely to go as far as some former abuse victims would wish.

Mr Shaw said, "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 individuals or on individual institutions or organisations".

Adam Ingram, the Scottish Executives Children's Minister, said that the report shed light on the failings of the systems that should have protected children.

He said that the Scottish Executive would consult with partner organisations and former abuse victims before acting on the report, but he promised that its findings would also be used to help inform the future provision for the care of children in homes.

There would also be specific proposals for those formerly in residential care as part of a wider strategy for people who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, he said.

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