Submitted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) (CA 215)
The NSPCC believes that if residential care provision for children and young people is to meet the high standards that these vulnerable groups deserve, then all child abuse allegations, including all cases of institutional abuse, must be investigated fully and fairly, in a rigorous and objective manner. Ideally allegations of institutional abuse should involve an independent child protection agency, in line with new DH guidance (2002) on investigating complex abuse.
The scale and nature of the activities of some sex offenders, and the complex nature of some of the cases, which come to the attention of the police and welfare agencies, require an well-organised approach from the professionals involved. The best approach to this work is through inter-agency co-operation and the NSPCC is fully committed to this. Over the past eight years, the NSPCC has created a network of Specialist Investigation Services across England and Wales specifically to address this complex area of work. Through working in partnership with other agencies, real progress has been achieved in the investigation of alleged child abuse offences and in creating a climate of confidence in which victims and those at risk feel able to speak out. There is further to go.
1. Do police methods of trawling for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?
We think that the answer is no to both parts of this question.
The majority of staff within the residential care system are skilled and conscientious in their work. However, we know from our operational experience and research, that a small number of individuals commit serious abuses of trust, employing their professional status to intimidate, undermine and abuse children and young people in their care. In many cases the psychological and emotional damage that results from such abuse is carried into adulthood.
As a result, the gathering of evidence is a sensitive, complex and difficult task. It requires a high level of skill in assessment and analysis of materials and documents and intensive scrutiny in order to ensure that as full a picture as possible can be produced.
Child protection investigations involving abuse in children's' homes may involve multiple abusers and correspondingly high numbers of victims. There is considerable evidence to indicate that such work is hindered by the reluctance of children and young people to speak about their experiences of abuse. When a child or young person does decide to speak out and gives clear evidence of abuse perpetrated by a residential care professional, it is reasonable to seek corroboration from other potential witnesses who were resident within a defined time period around events that are already known. It is also reasonable to interrogate other evidence to prepare a contextual analysis of the pattern of the abuse perpetrated. This in-depth analysis is also crucial in maintaining an informed and sensitive approach towards the identification and interviewing of potential other victims.
It is the experience of the NSPCC that investigations often develop through such an approach and that serious offences only become visible after painstaking and thorough investigation based on this approach. The complementary skills of police officers, social workers and other professionals engaged in this work have contributed to successful outcomes in many detailed and complex investigations.
2. Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?
We think that generally it is.
The overriding difficulty within investigations into past cases of abuse in children's homes concerns the difficulty of gathering evidence that will secure a successful conviction. Children and young people frequently experience mixed feelings about coming forward as witnesses and lack the confidence required to give evidence in the witness box. Many victims have suffered psychological and emotional damage, making them vulnerable to skilled cross-examination. They may experience a learning disability. They may experience oppressive attitudes and behaviours that inhibit reporting of abuse, for example the experiences of black children in care. These factors create great obstacles for the CPS when assessing evidence and making judgements about how to proceed and require specialist skills to assist the CPS in their process of decision making.
In many enquiries, representatives of the CPS are involved from the outset in planning investigations. This approach ensures that consideration of evidence and the legal process are integrated into day to day management of the work. The NSPCC commends this approach as best practice within complex investigations into abuse within children's homes.
3. Should there be a time limit on prosecution?
Children, young people, and adults usually choose to tell about the abuse that they have experienced when it is right for them to. We hope that as advocacy services, "Speak-Out" and other safeguarding policies become well established these will assist children and young people to talk about their experiences more willingly. We recognise, however, that for some it may be years later, perhaps when the person feels settled and safe enough to talk. Individuals who have abused children may have a long career in their professions and there could be numerous vulnerable children in homes, families and the community who would remain at risk if victims could not feel empowered to report their experiences at any time. Shortening the Statute of Limitation would prevent these people obtaining justice.
4. Is there a risk of the advertising of compensation encouraging fabrication?
We do not have evidence that compensation is widely advertised though this certainly was the case in North Wales during the period that Sir Ronald Waterhouse was investigating alleged abuse within residential children's homes in North Wales.
Information about criminal injury compensation schemes or rights of the individual to make a civil claim must be properly available.
Few, if any, professionals who are experienced in this area of practice identify fabrication as a significant issue, rather they are more likely to express concern about the trauma involved for witnesses in coming forward to give evidence.
In our experience victims want little more than acknowledgement of the wrong done to them, and to help stop such wrongs happening again or to others. After disclosure they put themselves through enormous traumaboth investigation and court process are heavily demanding of them.
We share the concern expressed to you by the ADSS that some Local Authorities have not been allowed to apologise to young people for the wrongs done to them because of the requirements of insurance companies not to admit fault. This issuethe process of insurance and compensation where the use of an apology and finding of fault are prohibitedis one that merits your attention.
Learning how to help children, young people, and adults speak out, and to then investigate abuse which may go back decades, and then bring the abuser to justice is a relatively new challenge for the police, the welfare agencies, the CPS and the courts. In our view the agencies are rising to this challenge, and high standards of practice are being established, and met, in this complex field.
It is not our experience that this area of work is full of young people making spurious claims of abuse with malicious intent or for financial advantage. It is a complex area where the rights of the accused must be protected, but also where children, young people, and adults who have experienced abuse must be helped to find justice. They have a right to speak out, to protection, and to find justice.