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
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.