Select Committee on Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Christian Wolmar

  I would like to contribute to the consultation process for the deliberations of the Select Committee on the working of the Adoption and Children Bill. I am the author of Forgotten Children a book sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the abuse scandals in children's homes. I would like to use what I learnt in researching the book to make a few brief points.

  First, one of the key lessons from the research is that homes where there was no potential for children to complain were more open to abuse. Clear complaints procedures are a necessity. Preferably, there should be a specific person to whom residents can complain, one who is experienced enough to detect potential false claims but who will provide a sympathetic ear for all those who approach him or her. Independent complaints procedures are not an add-on but must be an integral part of the management systems of the home.

  Secondly, one of the most shocking aspects of my book is the role of the insurance companies in preventing proper examination of scandals by local authorities and of the publication of the results of investigations. This was a matter which was very cursorily dealt in the North Wales report by Waterhouse who, I feel, took a very legalistic view of the issue and failed to make any suitable recommendations. There is desperate need for legislation on this matter. As the law is presently constituted, insurance companies can, effectively, instruct local authorities to refuse to apologise to victims of abuse and, worse, force them to fight legal actions which they would rather settle.

  Finally, I would like to reiterate the case for a national children's commissioner. There is much confusion over the issue of children's rights and there is some opposition to the concept of a commissioner. This is misguided. Giving children rights and a means of enforcing them through a commissioner does not mean that all parental control would suddenly disappear overnight. More importantly, a children's commissioner would provide an excellent voice for the needs of children in society which, at present, has no means of expression. Creating such a post would be an important symbolic act in the fight against the abuse and mistreatment of children.

  There is much more detailed information in my book which is published by Vision Paperbacks, ISBN 1-901250-47-4 a copy of which, I think, is in the House of Commons Library.

April 2001

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