David Lane's presentation "What We Have Learnt about Children's Homes through the Findings of the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry" at

 

"Children's Homes: What were they really like? Have they a Future?"

 

a CCHN seminar held on November 1, 2017, at Hinsley Hall in Leeds

 

 

Introduction

The Inquiry Process

The Terms of Reference

The timescale

The witnesses

The evidence

The launch

The Early History of Children’s Homes in Northern Ireland

The early decades

Large homes and unacceptable practices

Background Factors

Poverty

Legislation

Official guidance on residential child care

The 1960s and Thereafter

Improvements in standards

Residential care context

The Troubles

Findings of the Inquiry

Links between sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse

Abusers and victims

Individual responsibility of staff

The credibility of allegations

Peer Abuse

Recommendations

Problems still requiring attention

Identifying individual sexual abusers

Multiple abusers

 

 

Introduction

 

1 In setting up this seminar we were wanting to focus primarily on children’s homes, and to give a full and realistic picture of life in children’s homes, setting out neither to whitewash problems nor to focus solely on their failures. The Northern Ireland Inquiry inevitably focused on the allegations of abuse by former residents, and indeed its remit was to identify systemic failings. Most of its million words therefore relate to criticisms of residential child care, and the report covered not only children’s homes, but also training schools, which were for young offenders, borstals and a hospital unit.

 

2 Today, I will say something about the Inquiry, but I intend to focus primarily on what we learnt about the way in which the children’s homes of Northern Ireland developed and changed, especially during the period covered by the Inquiry, from 1922 to 1995, and I will use four of the homes which were subject to most allegations as examples.

 

The Inquiry Process

 

3 First, therefore, the process of the Inquiry. When the Report, which runs to 10 volumes and about a million words, was published, Sir Anthony Hart, the Chairman of the Inquiry, summarised it in two and a half hours. I can therefore cover only the bare bones in a few minutes, but I can commend Sir Anthony's excellent summary to you if you want the key facts without reading all ten volumes. The full report is on the web.

 

The Terms of Reference

 

4 The Inquiry was set up as a result of pressure from survivors, and in particular Margaret McGuckin and SAVIA, the main survivors' group. The Northern Ireland Assembly set up a working group which determined the Inquiry's remit, subject to a few tweaks. This was a very important stage, as we were given a workable remit, which said we were essentially to determine whether there had been systemic abuse in residential child care establishments in Northern Ireland in the period 1945 to 1995.

 

5 This excluded abuse in schools, abuse by foster carers, abuse by priests in other settings, exploitation of young women in laundries and so on. Nor were we required to identify individuals as abusers, though this proved necessary in establishing systemic abuse in some cases. The areas we did not address may need to be covered by other inquiries in due course, but if the remit had been broader, the Inquiry could have become amorphous or taken much longer, delaying the outcome for survivors of abuse in residential care and costing a lot more. The need for careful thinking at this stage was clearly important.

 

The timescale

 

6 We began work in mid-2012, when planning and preliminary work was undertaken. This went on for about 18 months to the end of 2013, partly because the court room which had been set aside for us in Banbridge, a small town about 25 miles south of Belfast, was still in use by another inquiry. However, the time was also needed to start acquiring the documentation and to advertise to attract witnesses.

 

7 We started to hear witnesses in January 2014, and at this point we had little idea how many we could reasonably hear in a working day, nor how many people would wish to give evidence. We had been granted by law eighteen months up to mid-2015 to hear witnesses, with six months to write up the report, which was to be delivered in January 2016. It quickly became clear that we could not meet this target, and the Northern Ireland Assembly passed amending legislation to give us an extra year. They also extended the remit, to start in 1922, when the governments in Northern Ireland and the south of Ireland were established.

 

8 These changes proved to be appropriate. About 50 people who had been in homes between 1922 and 1945 were given the opportunity to give evidence, including one man who had been admitted to a home as far back as 1929. The setting of a target date was also good, in that it was attainable but applied considerable pressure to complete the work. You will recall that the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war was continuing - apparently interminably - at this time.

 

The witnesses

 

9 Altogether 526 people came forward to give evidence. They could choose whether to give evidence to the Acknowledgement Forum, or in public, or both. The Acknowledgement Forum comprised a team of four colleagues, where the survivors were encouraged to unburden themselves confidentially in a supportive setting. Their evidence was not challenged, and where the outcome of their discussions has been used in the report, it has been totally anonymised.

 

10 Others gave evidence to the Panel in open court, where our two barristers put questions to them, often based on the witnesses’ police and social services records and including the questions which Counsel for the institutions would have put to them if cross-examination had been permitted. Although this non-adversarial approach was intended to be supportive and non-confrontational, it was no doubt still a very challenging experience for many witnesses.

 

11 I suspect that the survivors expected that they would be able to have their say, make their criticisms and be believed, and that the checking of records and the hearing of evidence from their abusers and from the representatives of the organisations which they were criticising and the questioning in open court, all came as a most unpleasant shock. Still, the court setting, the administration of oaths, and the range of people present, including lawyers, reporters and the public, underlined the fact that their evidence was being taken seriously.

 

12 We also heard evidence from representatives of the organisations which ran the child care establishments where abuse was alleged. In some cases the provision of documentary evidence was hampered by the chaotic state of their records, and additional material was being provided throughout the duration of the Inquiry. Their approaches varied from very co-operative to defensive, and it was noticeable that some gave very fulsome and moving apologies, but then defended the individuals accused of abuse, undermining the impact of their apologies. Obviously, the people making the apologies were not in post at the time of the alleged abuse.

 

13 We heard from field social workers and staff who had worked in the homes, and from quite a number of people accused of abuse, who understandably all denied the allegations. Some of these were former residents who were themselves making allegations of abuse, and one of the effects of abuse by other residents was that it created rifts between different cohorts, undermining any solidarity which there might have been to oppose abuse by adults.

 

The evidence

 

14 We took oral evidence from January 2014 for two and a half years to July 2016. We had been drafting sections of the report as we had gone along, but there was still considerable pressure in the final months, drafting, revising and checking. The volume of material covered was massive - probably over a million pages. I estimate that nearly half a million pages must have been numbered and redacted and put on the Inquiry website.

 

15 I would wish to pay a tribute to the barristers, solicitors and paralegal staff who processed all this material. The Panel had a lot to read, but the predigestion of this huge quantity of material was invaluable and took a lot of managing. It was not just a matter of skimming large volumes of material, but of identifying key issues, noting the absence of information in some cases, redacting where necessary and ensuring that the hundreds of references in the report were accurate.

 

The launch

 

16 Our report was delivered to the Northern Ireland government as required on 4 January 2017, and was launched publicly on 18 January. We therefore met our statutory deadline, and we came in under budget. About 200 people attended the launch, and I was surprised at the warmth of the reception. One person commented that he had been amazed at the strength of our criticisms and he had counted 41 instances in which we had concluded that there had been systemic abuse. I think he had expected some sort of whitewashing job, but the Chairman had been quite clear throughout the Inquiry that we were independent of all interested parties, including the government department which funded the Inquiry and the politicians. This approach required considerable strength of mind, but in my view it was essential if the findings were to be credible.

 

17 I have seen two serious articles which have described the Inquiry since its publication. Both were complimentary, and one identified the clarity of the remit and the continuity of the personnel as key factors. All the dozen or so senior personnel in the Inquiry remained constant throughout.

 

18 Because the launch co-incided with the collapse of the Northern Ireland power-sharing government, no decisions have been taken on our recommendations in the subsequent nine months. My personal view is that this constitutes further systemic abuse suffered by the survivors. Twelve witnesses died during the Inquiry, and no doubt more have passed away since publication. The survivors have deserved a speedy response, but they have become political pawns. All parties expressed support for our recommendations, and the Secretary of State could have taken action through the Westminster Parliament if he had wished to do so.

 

The History of Children’s Homes in Northern Ireland

 

The early decades

 

19 Although our Inquiry commenced in 1922, which is when separate governments were set up in Northern and Southern Ireland, the roots of the system go back well into the nineteenth century. Then, the end of the line for children and their families with problems was the workhouse, and there were several of these built on a standard pattern scattered across Northern Ireland. If you have questions about them, Peter Higginbotham will be better placed to answer them than me.

 

20 Children’s homes, as such, were really developed by the Roman Catholic Church, because of their concern that Catholic children in workhouses were not being brought up as Catholics. During the nineteenth century there were Church of Ireland organisations who were acting as missionaries, trying to win over Roman Catholics to change denomination, so there were real grounds for Catholic concern, and it was only in 1850 that the Catholic Church hierarchy had been re-established in Great Britain.

 

21 It was towards the end of the nineteenth century that initiatives were taken to build homes for Catholic children. They started modestly, with Bishop Dorrian giving his house in Belfast in 1876 to be used as a children’s home, for example. But over the next twenty-five years four large children’s homes were built – Termonbacca for boys and Bishop Street for girls in Londonderry, and Nazareth House and Nazareth Lodge for girls and boys respectively in Belfast. Derry and Belfast were the two main centres of population and the two main sources of children requiring admission. Between them they had beds for well over 500 children. These are the homes to which I am mainly referring today.

 

22 Other religious denominations also opened homes, but they did not have concerns about the religious slant of the workhouses, and their homes were much smaller and fewer in number.

 

23 The Catholic homes had large dormitories, central dining halls, chapels where the children attended daily for services, schoolrooms and enclosed playgrounds, such that they spent almost their whole lives on the premises in the early decades. Occasionally they went out for walks to the local parks, but they had to walk in crocodiles, two by two, and they were in trouble if they spoke to any outsider. At Christmastime local factories laid on parties, and these were remembered as very special occasions. The result of this insular life-style was that young people were totally unprepared for life in the community on their discharge. They had not learnt to cook, to handle money, to relate to the opposite sex, to deal with employers, to use public transport, and so on.

 

24 The quality of life in the homes in the earlier decades was very simple at best. The amount and quality of the food were for the most part poor. Clothing was communal and institutional. The buildings were generally warm enough, being good and solid and centrally heated. There were very few planned activities, the main daily occupations being house-cleaning and schooling, which was very basic. There was no expectation that the children would succeed academically or in their careers.

 

Large homes and unacceptable practices

 

25 There were a number of unacceptable residential child care practices in the large homes, such as:

- excessive chores,

- force-feeding,

- lack of individual care, especially in relation to sick children, who were left on their own in the dormitories,

- queuing for baths,

- the sharing of bathwater till it was cold and filthy,

- the extensive use of Jeyes fluid in the baths, to deal with lice,

- the humiliation and punishment of enuretic children,

- the failure to prepare girls for, or to deal properly with, menstruation, and

- the removal of money, personal possessions and clothes, on admission and after family visits, which the children found most distressing.

 

26 Possibly the most damaging practice was that for practical reasons the homes were divided by gender and age group, so that there were nursery units, units for small boys, units for big boys, units for small girls and units for big girls. Children were consequently separated from their siblings. It was not uncommon for a family of ten or twelve children to be admitted to care, following the death of a parent and the inability of the other to cope. Fathers also often headed to England to work, leaving the mothers under stress.

 

27 But the system for organising the homes meant that a large family might be split between five different units or homes, and the children would not only lose contact; sometimes they would even be unaware that they had siblings. Some action was taken by the nuns to help them to stay in touch, but it was very limited. Essentially the system broke up families, and it is my impression that the nuns saw the children’s families as dysfunctional and damaging, and considered children’s home life as a better substitute.

 

Background Factors

 

Poverty

 

28 In considering who was to blame for the abuse which went on the children’s homes in Northern Ireland one has to bear in mind a number of background factors, but a major one was poverty. I have mentioned that the country was too poor to afford to pass child care legislation matching the 1933 Act in England and Wales, and in consequence child care systems were not updated between the 1908 Act and the 1950 Act, so that children's homes were not registered or inspected, and some child care services were grossly underfunded.

 

29 In the early decades of the Inquiry's remit, the Roman Catholic section of the population was much poorer than the Protestants, though the Northern Ireland economy as a whole was not strong. When the Roman Catholic Church set up the homes they did not want to be beholden to the state, so they raised their own funds. The Protestant state was happy to leave them to it.

 

30 The result was that most of the Catholic children's homes were supported mainly by legacies, by gifts from Catholic businesses and by donations, collected from the Catholic community weekly by sisters who were known as the 'penny nuns'. While the nuns did not draw salaries, the income was insufficient to appoint other staff, and indeed they did not want to appoint lay staff for some time, in order to maintain the values of their Order.

 

31 As a result, in the 1950s a home for 120 boys, for instance, had a small number of nuns engaged in supportive work such as fundraising, cooking and laundry, but there were only three to look after the children, day in, day out, without a break and with no relief, each of the three heading up units of forty boys. One sister told us that she did not have a day off in five years.

 

36 While this situation is not an excuse for cruelty or abuse, the pressure on the nuns must have been considerable. They could not possibly have given the time, love and affection which all the children needed and they would no doubt have felt co-erced into adopting institutional systems which were out of date and constituted poor child care. By the 1950s local authorities were beginning to open family group homes and even their bigger homes were for a couple of dozen children. These homes were mostly adequately financed and sufficiently staffed, and were subject to very few allegations of abuse for the most part.

 

Legislation

 

37 What I have described so far was the picture up to and including the 1950s. Over the last century it was the practice broadly speaking for child care legislation in Northern Ireland to be modelled on English laws. The 1908 Act, which was called the Children’s Charter, covered the whole of the British Isles. The Republic of Ireland was still many years off, and so the 1908 Act applied to the whole of Ireland, and it remained the Republic’s main child care legislation until the 1990s.

 

38 In England there were Acts in 1932 and 1933, but they were not replicated in Northern Ireland for lack of resources. The English 1948 Act was copied in Northern Ireland in 1950, but by this time the province was twenty years behind England in terms of its standards of practice, and it took a long while to catch up.

 

39 The professionals and politicians in Northern Ireland did not agree with the philosophy of the English 1969 Act, so it was not copied. The 1989 Act was replicated in 1995. Bearing in mind the fact that the province was generally twenty years behind England and Wales, what was the basis for the child care practice?

 

Official guidance on residential child care

 

40 I’d like to quote two brief excerpts from policy documents to you. If you do not recognise their sources, see if you can judge from their language and contents when they were written and which organisation produced them.

 

41 “While recognising that residential care facilities and family-based care complement each other in meeting the needs of children, where large residential care facilities (institutions) remain, alternatives should be developed in the context of an overall deinstitutionalization strategy, with precise goals and objectives, which will allow for their progressive elimination.”

(Resolution 64/142 of the UN General Assembly, 2010 on Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children: para. 230)

 

42 “The aim, when providing new homes for children in long-term care is to enable each child to live as a member of a small group. The number of children in a home of this kind … may vary from eight to twelve. ….. The size of some homes and the nature of their premises and organisation, are such as to make them in greater or lesser degree institutional in character and thus particularly unsuitable for young children. ….. in [some] cases the home might be organised, after suitable adaptation of the premises, in family groups, each under the charge of a housemother, so that the conditions of a family group home are reproduced as nearly as possible.”

(Memorandum by the Home Office on the Conduct of Children’s Homes: Para. 3 and Appendix 1, para. 3)

 

43 The two excerpts are clearly in tune, arguing against big institutions. The first of these excerpts (about deinstitutionalization) dates back to 2010, issued by the United Nations. The second excerpt was from an interesting guide was drawn up by the Home Office in 1951 and it gave an excellent description of good residential child care. (This was the time when Clare Winnicott was heading up the Central Training Council; I wonder if she and Donald Winnicott had a hand in drafting the guidance.) It was circulated in Northern Ireland in 1952, but it was about twenty years before it was implemented in the four large homes.

 

44 Most early documentation concerning the homes had been shredded in accordance with government guidelines, but two useful documents survived. The first, dated about 1950, was a report by one of the first Inspectors, which she augmented with hand-written notes, and it spelt out the appalling physical standards in some homes and the need for drastic action. The second was an initialled note, probably written by a senior civil servant, which in essence said that it was not the central government’s job to put these things right. The overall impression is that of laissez-faire oversight of the children’s residential services.

 

45 It can be seen that responsibility for an unsatisfactory care system was therefore very wide, and resulted to a large extent from failure to take positive action, rather than specific bad decisions. The Church bore a responsibility for keeping the homes up to date but allowed them to stagnate. The state and more specifically the Inspectorate failed to put the necessary pressure on to improve standards. The lack of investment in residential child care in the earlier decades in these homes led, among other things, to low staffing numbers, which provided the opportunities for individual staff to abuse children, physically and/or sexually, without colleagues being aware.

 

The 1960s and Thereafter

 

Improvements in standards

 

46 The quality of residential child care gradually improved from the 190s onwards. Lay staff were appointed, in small numbers at first. In the 1970s the big units were broken up into smaller units, eventually becoming family-sized. The overall numbers in the homes were reduced. Social workers visited and developed care plans, which included some preparation for leaving the homes. The involvement of social workers resulted in earlier discharges, so that children no longer spent their whole childhood in the homes. Work was undertaken with families. Eventually all the children in the homes were formally taken into care, instead of the previous voluntary arrangements made between the nuns, parish priests and parents. This meant that local authorities paid a capitation allowance, which funded better living conditions and staffing increases.

 

47 The quality of life in the homes improved dramatically, and with the impact of qualifying training the standards of child care improved, with keyworking, individual attention, better family contact, activities and preparation for independence. By 1995 the standards of residential child care Northern Ireland were as good as those anywhere in the UK, if not better. There were still individual abusers, but the overall picture of abysmal care standards had gone. That is a good news story.

 

Residential care context

 

48 It is important to see the allegations of abuse in its wider residential care context. I understand that there may have been about 150 residential establishments in Northern Ireland which could have come within our Terms of Reference. About 65 were mentioned in the evidence of witnesses, but only 37 were subject to complaints. Of these we decided not to investigate a further 15 as the allegations did not amount to systemic abuse, though we recommended that individuals who were abused in these homes should still be considered for redress.

 

49 We therefore investigated 22 homes and other units, one of which was not in our view responsible for systemic abuse. Over 80% of the complaints related to about half a dozen homes. You can imagine a graph, therefore, in which there have been no or very few allegations in relation to most of the residential care in the province, but with peaks in the number of complaints in a very few homes, and mainly at certain periods. While the standard of care in these homes was at times appalling, there were many other homes where residents experienced good care, and quite a number of witnesses told us so.

 

The Troubles

 

50 You will appreciate that throughout the Inquiry we had to consider the historical context and the standards of residential care that were prevalent during the periods when abuse was alleged. In the earlier decades, for example, children were ordinarily beaten by their parents and teachers in ways which are quite unacceptable now, and we had to determine whether something amounted to systemic abuse in terms of customary practice at the time when the alleged abuse took place.

 

51 One of the background factors in Northern Ireland which directly affected several of the homes was the impact of the Troubles, roughly from 1969 onwards, but at varying levels for the remainder of our remit. One boy was abducted from a training school and murdered by the IRA, and there were gun battles in the grounds of two homes. The pressure on staff must have been enormous, and it is their credit that they kept the system going.

 

52 At St Patrick’s Training School, for instance, while no doubt the brothers and other staff had sympathy for the concerns of the Roman Catholic community, they were expected to collaborate with the police, the courts and the prison service in dealing with young people who had been arrested for terrorist activities. At one point some of the residents even planned to set up an IRA cell within St Patrick’s and to kidnap some of the staff. Some careful negotiations through a network of political contacts fortunately scuppered this plan, but it indicates the level of difficulties caused by the Troubles.

 

Findings of the Inquiry

 

Links between sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse

 

53 My first observation is that the different types of abuse are closely interlinked. Some inquiries focus entirely on sexual abuse. Our remit did not specify what constituted child abuse, and we adopted a definition which covered sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, to which we added unacceptable practices which did not fall directly under the other four headings.

 

54 In the course of the Inquiry it became clear that sexual abuse was often associated directly with physical abuse or threats of physical violence, and that physical and sexual abuse were almost always associated with severe emotional abuse. Witnesses often said that the emotional consequences were much worse than the physical impact of sexual or physical abuse. There were also examples of emotional abuse which were unconnected to physical or sexual abuse, such as the humiliation of children or verbal attacks by staff on the children's families. I hope that inquiries whose remit is to examine sexual abuse do not ignore the interlinking.

 

Abusers and victims

 

55 It will be no surprise that by far the majority of the sexual abusers were male. Indeed, the number of female workers against whom allegations of sexual abuse were made was minuscule. In the overall picture it was male abusers, usually abusing boys, who presented as the main threat. Even in the homes run by all-female care staff, it was the gardener-handymen and other male ancillary workers who abused the children sexually. One notorious sexual abuser was Father Brendan Smyth, who visited children’s homes as well as other places frequented by children, and when he was eventually imprisoned he admitted to having abused more than a hundred children.

 

56 The level of abuse varied from the brutal imposition of abuse to satisfy the abuser despite protests from the victim to attempts by abusers to form relationships. In a very small number of cases, both homosexual and heterosexual, the relationships became long-term and to some extent reciprocal, though it could still be argued that they remained exploitative.

 

57 The witnesses who appeared to have got their lives together and come to terms with their abusive experiences were often people who had found a good partner, who had stood by them, and had helped them to learn to trust and relate to people. However, it was our impression that the children who had been in residential care suffered higher levels of social difficulties, offending, physical illness, mental health difficulties and suicide than the comparable population at large.

 

Individual responsibility of staff

 

58 While we were required to identify systemic abuse, the importance of the individual - and their attitudes and actions - should not be understated. In one home there were three staff who attracted so many allegations that half of the children resident in the home complained of their cruelty. These staff all left about the same time, and the decline in the number of allegations was dramatic. These three staff had made life hell for the children, and as they were all in positions of authority, the children had no escape.

 

59 Although the abusers carried primary responsibility, other staff and managers who were aware of the abuse but did nothing were also responsible, at least for the continuation of the abuse. In short, reporting abuse and ensuring that the report is acted on is the responsibility of each member of a staff team from the manager to the lowliest ancillary worker. We had instances where abused children reported to senior staff, to other care staff, to ancillary staff, to social workers, and to outsiders. Occasionally action was taken, but the typical response was inaction or disbelief.

 

60 Social workers played a bigger role from the 1970s onwards. There were several instances where social workers had a real impact in taking up allegations or in improving standards of case monitoring or physical care, but sadly there were also reports of witnesses' inability to trust their social workers to act - sometimes because of the turnover - or where social workers took no action because they did not believe the children.

 

The credibility of allegations

 

61 The failure to believe children making allegations was widespread, and many children did not make complaints because they thought they would not be believed. This applied to all forms of abuse. People in the 1950s and 1960s simply did not think that nuns and brothers and priests would abuse children sexually or with such punitive violence. Indeed, although professionals in child care were aware of incest in those days, allegations of sexual abuse by staff were very rare, and I know of only one formal inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse by staff in residential child care in the UK until recent times, and that concerned the Little Commonwealth in 1919.

 

62 We also faced the question of the credibility of witnesses, both the former children in care who alleged abuse and those against whom allegations of abuse had been made. This is a complex subject, which would merit a paper to itself. Suffice to say, I can only recall two witnesses where I got the impression that they were consciously lying, but there were numerous examples where survivor witnesses described awful abuse in convincing detail while their alleged abusers utterly denied that any such things had happened.

 

63 My view is that one's mind tries to make sense of one's experiences, and creates a narrative, selecting items to remember or forget. I personally found the narratives of the victims of abuse generally more convincing because it seemed that the abuse had had an emotional impact on them which it had not had on the alleged abusers. It was therefore understandable that the abuse continued to rankle with the victims, sometimes affecting their whole lives, while the abusers had genuinely forgotten the events. However, these mental processes affect all of us, and some of the accounts given by survivors had clearly become distorted over time, as they were inconsistent with reliable records, and in a few instances they appear to have been influenced by other survivors' accounts, which they had adopted as their own experiences.

 

Peer Abuse

 

64 We found the extent of peer sexual abuse greater than we had expected. The term is probably inaccurate, as it was typically a question of older children, mainly boys, abusing younger children, often at night. In the homes run by nuns, the sisters spent a couple of hours each evening as a community, eating and worshipping together, and during this time they left older children, known by titles such as 'class boys', in charge. These periods provided opportunities for serious bullying, and the nuns dismissed any complaints made by younger children. A small number of former residents were kept on as handymen or gardeners, and some of them also abused the resident children.

 

65 In one local authority home there was a most unusual pattern of sexual abuse, in which young teenagers organised even younger children into sexual activities, either immediately after school or in the very early hours of the morning, and the staff were totally unaware of this abuse for some time.

 

Recommendations

 

66 We were asked to make recommendations on three matters. First, although some survivors saw little point in an apology, others welcomed the idea. We recommended that an apology should be given by all the key organisations at the same time.

 

67 Secondly, some witnesses were against the establishment of a monument as it would remind them of the abuse they had suffered, but again, others welcomed the idea, and we recommended that a memorial should be sited at Stormont to remind those in power of their responsibilities to children and young people.

 

68 Thirdly, we spent most time on consideration of financial redress. Clearly, nothing can really compensate for the damage and pain incurred in suffering abuse. As the Inquiry had the power to demand documentation, information was gathered on all civil claims, and our recommendation was for payment broadly in line with the amounts awarded in civil claims. This is the one area where survivors’ groups have criticised the report, as they consider it stingy. The amounts are certainly less than the payments made in the Republic of Ireland following the Ryan Report, but it remains to be seen how the politicians will react at a time of austerity.

 

69 We recognised the need for survivors to have a variety of services to compensate for, or counteract, what they had experienced, such as help with education, health matters or housing. To oversee the system of redress and other services, we recommended the appointment of a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Child Abuse and a Redress Board.

 

Problems still requiring attention

 

70 For the most part I think that as an Inquiry we identified whether systemic abuse took place fairly satisfactorily, having heard the witnesses and read the written evidence, and formed a view on the likelihood as to what happened. This was our primary remit.

 

71 I think that in most cases we formed an understanding of how the abuse had come about, whether this related to the economy, legislation, social care policies, inspection systems, residential child care working methods, or the abusive conduct of individuals.

 

72 Witnesses often told us that their main motivation in coming forward was that they hoped no one in future would have to go through what they had experienced. Understanding how things had gone wrong offered clues as to the practice needed to avoid repetition of the abuse. In many cases standards of care have improved so dramatically that repetition is most unlikely.

 

73 However, there are two issues where I think we did not identify the ways in which things went wrong, and which in my view merit further work. I am not an academic and I am not up to date with current practice, and I do appreciate that other people may have worked on these issues, and I am simply betraying my ignorance. If so, I am delighted.

 

Identifying individual sexual abusers

 

74 First, I am unaware of any satisfactory way of identifying potential sexual abusers prior to their appointment. People who abuse are often intelligent, qualified, personally charming, and so on. There are no characteristics which pick them out, but they are often in positions of power and seniority, and their abuse is often identified when they are well established in their careers. It is possible that their abuse has gone undetected, but it is also possible that they commenced abusing after some time in the work. Whichever explanation is true, we need to be alert to allegations or other evidence regardless of the status of childcare workers.

 

75 Secondly, the Hesley Foundation ran into serious trouble when one of its head teachers abused children. They developed a checklist of about twenty clues to identify possible abusers - people who did excessive overtime, those who arranged a lot of off-site activities and so on. They did not claim that the checklist was foolproof in identifying abusers, but that people who scored highly merited closer observation. I do not know whether they found the checklist effective or whether it is still in use.

 

76 Thirdly, it was suggested to me during the Inquiry that sexual abusers tended to seek out the company of children of an age which matched their own emotional development. This seemed to me an interesting idea, and if psychologists could devise a system of identifying where the emotional growth of staff members had failed to develop, it might offer clues concerning people's suitability for work with children. Of course, such identification with children could be positive in enabling relationships too, and may not be an indicator of potential abuse.

 

77 How we select the right staff, to exclude abusers, and how we monitor them, to pick up the risk of abuse when they are in post, remains in my view a conundrum.

 

Multiple abusers

 

78 My second issue requiring further work concerns multiple sexual abusers. I am sure that there will continue to be occasional child care workers who abuse children, and we shall need to be alert to minimise their impact. But how is it that in several of the homes which we examined there were multiple abusers? This is a problem beyond residential child care. How did the groups of abusers in Rotherham and Rochdale and Oxford come together?

 

79 We found no real evidence of rings of abusers, for example of one abuser encouraging a friend whom he knew to be interested in sexually abusing children to join him and apply for a job, though I have heard of other instances where this has been alleged.

 

80 Was a sexually permissive atmosphere established by an abuser in a senior position, which other potential abusers picked up on? There was some evidence of this, and I suspect that some sexual abuse is opportunistic.

 

81 Was the organisation which provided the home or school one which had attracted potential abusers? It is noticeable that there have been instances of multiple abusers in more than one home or school run by the same organisation. The rules of the Orders running the homes we examined included measures to reduce opportunities to abuse, which suggests that abuse may have been a long-standing problem which they had already been trying to address.

 

82 There are all sorts of possibilities, and I could find no reference to this subject having been properly researched. However, while an occasional lone abuser may slip through the net, we should be able to identify establishments where abuse has become the norm for a number of staff, and we should be able to stop or minimise it.

 

83 The main defence, as I see it, is that the children need to feel able to speak out, and the potential abusers need to know that they will do so. One former colleague said that in his organisation they had a rule that there should never be secrets between a staff member and a resident, however innocent, as they could lead on to more serious covert relationships. The Northern Ireland Inquiry frequently heard from witnesses who had felt unable to speak out to their families, social workers or inspectors, where threats were made to ensure silence. That is the opposite of the culture I am advocating.

 

DCL 29 10 17

 


David Lane was a panel member in the recent Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland, which reported in January 2017, and he will speak about what has been learnt about children’s homes in the province during the Inquiry’s remit from 1922 to 1995.

David commenced his career with eight years working in residential child care and ended it with eight years as Director of Social Services in Wakefield. Since then he has acted as expert witness in more than eighty cases, which in the main related to former children in care alleging negligence by care providers. From 2012 he was a Panel Member in the Northern Ireland Inquiry, which published its ten-volume report in January this year.