Submitted by the Care Leavers Association (CA 171)
We are disappointed with the terms of reference for this inquiry but welcome discussion and debate about this important issue that has affected many of our members and many of the one million plus care leavers in the country.
Child abuse is a feature common to society as a whole. It is also widely known that paedophiles often operate in groups (rings) and attempt to enter into jobs which give them access to vulnerable children ie Residential Social Workers, teachers and sometimes even at a higher level up to Directors of Social Services (two former directors and one former Assistant Chief Superintendent were convicted last year). There are now extreme safeguards to prevent such people entering into these jobs but these safeguards still often fail. In the past such safeguards never existed and the result was tens of thousands of children in the care system subjected to horrific abusefrom the very people there to help and protect them.
With regard to the argument that abuse victims make allegations to claim compensation, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, (Chairman of the North Wales Tribunal) concluded that at least 600 children suffered abuse in the period under investigation. Any suggestion that the experience in North Wales was different to elsewhere in the UK is contradicted by the number of cases before the courts elsewhere. This figure, in fact, indicates tens of thousands of children were subjected to abuse in care (both in the public and voluntary sector) across the UK.
Care leavers victims raise the issue of their abuse and bring forward allegations because they wish to be vindicated and for society to bring justice to those who perpetrated crimes against them. They do not do so for compensation. Most child abuse lawyers will tell you that they often tell the victim of what the process would be like and that there would be little chance of admittance or even a conviction let alone compensation. The only people that made any money out of the North Wales Inquiry were the law firms themselves. It should also be underlined that 12 victims committed suicide as a result of this inquiry. The issue of compensation for victims should be separated into a different field with panels of experts making sympathetic and just inquiries and giving out adequate Government payments of compensation to those alleging they have suffered abuse, irrespective of whether the case has come to court.
The teams should be set up under a National Commission (based largely on the one established in Ireland) and be made up of sympathetic psychologists, lawyers, social workers and care leavers representatives (such as the CLA). This National Commission should be charged with cataloguing allegations of abuse and then the matters put into the hands of the police, to decide on whether further investigations are necessary.
The issue of access to files is an important factor in bringing to trial abuse cases. At present it takes care leavers a long time (sometimes years and years) to get access to their files. Then, often to be told that the files have been "lost" and some Local Authorities have admitted to files been "destroyed". However it is relatively easy for defence lawyers to get access to personal files and even use it against the victim in the court. There should not be a time limit for care leavers to get justice for abuse against them. The main reasons have been outlined above, however delays occurring as a result of access to files, information supplied by former service providers or the collation of other important evidence that is often not forthcoming easily is a major factor of delays.
Finally, it may be difficult for society to believe that this kind of horrific abuse happens on such a large scale. So it is often easier to hide behind the arguments such as False Memory Syndrome (FMS) or that abuse victims of the care system say these things that happened to them for compensation. Every professional organisation and academics have refused to accept FMS as a syndrome or even a theory. Those who hide behind these arguments, fail to explain why 1,000 children in the UK phone Childline for assistance each week. We reject the arguments of the FMS lobby. Acceptance of their false premises can only assist the perpetuation of child abuse crimes.
Attached is our proposal for such a commission and the campaign for a Prime Minister's public apology for the victims of abuse in the care system (not printed).