‘More Troubling Than Savile’ – Care Home That Let Staff Drug And Rape Its Children.

A professor and NHS Trust Chair who oversaw the Jimmy Savile inquiry has told the media that an investigation into a care home in Gravesend was “the most troubling thing she has ever worked on.”

Dr Sue Proctor was brought in to review child abuse allegations of former care home residents at Kendall House. The care home was run by the Church of England.

Now, a former member of staff has come forward.

His testimony not only vindicates the women who as young girls were routinely raped, and drugged with powerful chemicals in quantities only safe for large animals like horses, but confirms the extent of the horror.

On his first day, the staff member, who has asked to go by the name Mr Simpson, was told by a coworker, “I would ask to leave here. What goes on here isn’t right.” He also describes a female manager who ran the care home like a military camp and frightened both the staff and the children.

What the staff member saw has left him with memories, he says, that make him feel sick. He says that whilst the children at Kendall House were no more unruly than ordinary teenagers, they were treated appallingly. He explains that the girls were given drugs at every meal, kept in a cell for 24 hours for trying to run away, or straitjackets, given electric shock treatment, and routinely raped.

The member of staff says he wrote a letter to the Guardian, took his concerns to the National Council for Civil Liberties and was made aware that the police had received allegations too, but no one did anything.

The article tells us that:

“Mr Simpson still has the notes he took secretly of drugs administered to girls, listed under “breakfast, tea and supper” and some poured into cups of tea.

He noted oxytetrin, a veterinary product used to treat infections, thioridazine, used to treat schizophrenia and psychosis, and dalmane, which is for insomnia.”

The priest overseeing the home, who was also Director of Social Services for Kent, and considered himself to be a social activist and had written books about child welfare, was never reported to the police. Rev Nicolas Stacey went on record saying that youngsters in care could be “incredibly manipulative” and would make things up. He was widely considered to be a pioneer of social services at the time. Stacey died in May of this year.

It’s wonderful to see another whistleblower coming out and giving his testimony, even if it’s a little later than expected.

When Researching Reform first started working in the child welfare sector ten years ago, we had the enormous privilege of assisting Teresa Cooper, a former care leaver from Kendall House who first exposed the scandal, over fifteen years ago. The Church tried to shut her down, organisations ignored the evidence she had collected over a period spanning 30 years and politicians wouldn’t touch the story. But she never stopped campaigning.

It is thanks to Teresa that the abuse she and other girls suffered at Kendall House has become mainstream knowledge. If you’d like to learn more about Teresa and Kendall House, her blog No2Abuse is the definitive resource on the subject.

You can read the Church of England’s report here. 

And if you’d like to know more about the scientific experiments these girls endured, from the chemical cosh to electric shock therapy, and the abuse both sexual and emotional they lived through – though many have since committed suicide thanks to their ordeal – we highly recommend Teresa’s book ‘Pin Down’.

Many thanks to Teresa for sharing this update with us. You can follow Teresa on Twitter @TeresaCooper.

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Reverend Stacey: Children in care could be “incredibly manipulative.”

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

As the nation’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse starts to roll out its £1 million pound advertising campaign, the decision is being met with mixed feelings.

Whilst the hope is that the campaign will help to engage more survivors, a sense of dissatisfaction is growing amongst those who have been abused. One complaint aired by victims’ groups is that they have been excluded for the most part from proceedings,  with survivors’ voices rarely heard during evidence sessions. They argue that there is no point in attracting more engagement if those who speak out are ignored.

Writer and broadcaster Beatrix Campbell OBE, whose book about child sexual abuse in Cleveland is considered to be an important work on the scandal, feels that our Inquiry is lacking the same level of engagement and open dialogue which has made Australia’s own inquiry so successful. Researching Reform agrees with this view, and has written about this phenomenon as well. But there may be other reasons for our Inquiry’s ongoing troubles.

Unlike Australia which has become with time, a little removed from its colonial past, the heart of imperial politics lies in Westminster, and has changed little. As a result, there may be hidden pressures the public cannot see which are inherently connected to an elitist establishment still controlling vast sections of government. An elitist establishment which may stand to lose more than a few cabinet ministers if the truth ever gets out.

Our question then, is this: what factors do you think are playing a part in our Inquiry finding it so difficult to get the engagement they need to carry out their work in full? 

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In The News

The child welfare stories this week, that should be right on your radar:

A big thank you to Michele Simmons for alerting us to the first news item.

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Social Workers Caught Fabricating Evidence Boosts Call To Track Documents

Yet another social worker has been exposed for making up evidence in a child protection case, which could have resulted in the mother losing her child to the care system.

Linda Fraser, who works for Bristol city council as a senior social worker, edited child protection records in order to persuade the judge to place the child in care. Ms Fraser then lied to the court about having done so.

District judge Julie Exton found that Ms Fraser had added new information to case notes in order to bolster evidence against the mother. Ms Fraser then tried to suggest she was suffering from poor mental health and stress at the time and could not remember altering the records. The appeal court wasn’t buying it, and details of her conduct were sent to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), who then summoned Fraser before a disciplinary panel.

During the HCPC hearing, Ms Fraser denied several counts of misconduct, including suggesting to a court that it was the children’s social worker who had made the edits.

For reasons which remain unclear, the HCPC allowed Ms Fraser to give her evidence in private, using a measure usually reserved for vulnerable witnesses.

Ms Fraser also asked that live tweeting at the hearing be stopped, however upon the HCPC panel receiving legal advice on the matter, the panel refused her request.

Ms Fraser remains in Bristol council’s employment as a senior social worker.

The fabrication of evidence inside the Family Courts has become an epidemic. Google “social worker fabricated evidence“, and page upon page of reported cases come up. And those are just the publicly available ones. There is also an alarming number of Freedom Of Information requests investigating the issue.

The case above throws up the important, though admittedly unsexy, question of whether edits of child protection files should be formally tracked, with names and dates of parties making the changes all recorded. It is something Researching Reform addressed at the beginning of this year, when a similar case was made public. With the right software, and a good document production policy in place, this could be easily achieved, at minimal cost. This was what we proposed in January:

What a document production policy might look like –

  • Child welfare professionals must produce documents in line with best practice guidelines whilst adhering to law and local authority policy
  • Where the author of a document makes edits during its production, those edits must be tracked using standard tracking software on Word or Pages files.
  • Where the author of a document or report wishes to make edits after producing the document, he or she must file a form with the local authority, preferably through an online database, which is numbered and accessible to all parties to a case entitled to see this document.
  • Edits would then be added using the standard tracking software available with online text files so changes would also be visible.
  • If evidence is required to confirm the authenticity of any amendments outlining facts which are not immediately obvious, this must also be submitted with the form
  • The form must then be reviewed by a team manager or judge, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the edits. The reviewing party may also request further evidence or information before approving the edit/s
  • If the edits are approved, this must be evidenced on the form, so that a timeline of actions is recorded, preferably through an online system which logs and saves all data for every case, including who approved the edits
  • If the edits are not approved, reasons on the form must be given as to why
  • Where a professional who has not produced the document which is submitted for editing wishes to make an edit, that professional must also seek permission to edit that document via a form, as above.
  • All edits to a document must be tracked on the file itself, and shown to the relevant parties including individuals to whom the edits refer, so that they may raise any objections within a prescribed time frame
  • Families who want to address factual errors within such documents, whether they are found in the edits or the original draft of the document, should also be able to do so via a form, with appropriate evidence where required
  • Anyone found to have altered a document without permission should face being struck off and/or subject to criminal sanctions.

There may be a simpler way of doing this. Then again, the above process may just deter people from engaging in unethical behaviour in the first place.

Many thanks to Sabine for alerting us to this case.

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Rochdale Prosecutor Nazir Afzal To Speak At Public Conference Tackling Child Sex Abuse

Law firm Makin Dixon is hosting a free conference in Bradford this month which will look at how to protect children from sexual exploitation, and they are welcoming anyone who would like to attend.

The conference, which will be held on 9th November, features a number of high profile speakers including lawyer Nazir Afzal OBE, who is best known for prosecuting a prolific grooming gang in Rochdale. Nazir also took part in the BBC’s critically acclaimed documentary on abuse in Rochdale, called The Betrayed Girls.

Also speaking at the event is Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of child sexual abuse who was responsible for helping to expose the Rotherham child abuse scandal. She is the pioneer behind Sammy’s Law, which aims to pardon children who were forced to commit crimes by their abusers.

If you’d like to attend, you can book your place by emailing conference@makindixon.co.uk or give Makin Dixon a call on 01535 605 040

For those who can’t make it, you can can follow the conference on Twitter over at @MakinDixonLtd, hashtag 

More details, including venue and speakers can be found in the flyer below.

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President Calls For Investigation Into Covert Recordings In Family Court Cases

The President Of The Family Division has called on the Family Justice Council to look into the use of audio and video recordings obtained by parties going through the family courts. Sir James Munby made the request in a judgment published on 18th October. 

The case before Munby was an appeal which threw up the issue of covert recordings used within the family courts, their admissibility and the lack of guidance in this area for family professionals and the parties themselves. Parties in family court cases sometimes record events or conversations in secret, to show wrongdoing when there is no other way of proving fault.

Key parts of the judgment are added below:

“The courts have had to grapple with the legal and procedural issues generated by the stool-pigeon, the eavesdropper and the concealed observer since time immemorial. Since the second half of the nineteenth century the courts have had to grapple, and keep up, with the legal and procedural issues generated by the invention of technologies for the audio or visual recording of events.

On one level there is nothing very new about this. Thus, the covert filming or video-recording of personal injury or benefits claimants suspected of fraud has been an established and acceptable practice for many years. But in the family courts the issue has become much more pressing in recent years.
There are, I suspect, two reasons for this. One is the ever increasing sophistication and miniaturisation and at the same time ever decreasing cost of modern recording equipment. For anyone possessed of a smartphone or similar piece of ‘kit’, surreptitious audio recording or filming of events is child’s play.

The other, I fear, has to do with the widespread distrust in too many quarters of the competence or even the integrity of the family justice system and of the professionals involved in it. Here, of course, it is the existence of the mindset rather than its foundation in reality which is the driving force. But it does give rise to important questions of public policy.

That said, it needs to be accepted, with honesty and candour, that there have been in recent years in the family courts shocking examples of professional malpractice which have been established only because of the covert recording of the relevant individual.
It is important to distinguish between open recording and covert recording. In the nature of things, it is the latter which is more problematic. Without seeking to establish a complete taxonomy, there are at a least three categories of covert recording, each of which may raise a variety of different issues: covert recording of children, covert recording of other family members, and covert recording of professionals.
Whatever the nature of the recording, a number of issues are likely to arise.

Again without any pretence to completeness it is obvious that questions may arise as to: (i) the lawfulness of what has been done;

(ii) best practice outside the court room as it were; (iii) the admissibility of the recording in evidence; and

(iv) a variety of other evidential and practice issues (for example, as to how the recording is to be put in evidence, problems in relation to sound and picture quality, and, in particular, disputes as to authenticity – who are the people who can be heard or seen on the recording, has the recording been edited or ‘cut and spliced’? – which may necessitate calling expert evidence).

Furthermore, in relation to all this it may be important to identify who is doing the recording and why. Covert surveillance and recording by the police and other agencies, including the Security Service, which in current conditions not infrequently impinges upon the family courts, is one thing. Covert surveillance and recording by others may – I put the point no higher, it being a matter for another day – raise rather different issues.

I draw attention to these matters to show that covert recording in the context of the family courts potentially involves a myriad of issues, very few of which, despite all the judgments to which I have referred, have, even now, been systematically considered either at first instance or in this court.

I propose therefore, as a first step, to invite the Family Justice Council, which as a multi-disciplinary body is particularly suited to undertake the task, to consider the whole question of covert recording from a multi-disciplinary viewpoint.”

Using his signature blend of diplomacy (make of that what you will), Munby uses the public judgment once more to raise awareness of problems inside the system and invite investigation. Researching Reform hopes that when the time comes, parents, researchers, and activists will all contribute to the consultation. We most certainly will.

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

The Nuffield Foundation has just published its research looking at the impact on parties of having to choose grounds for divorce before being able to process a divorce application.

Their report, which was produced by Professor Liz Trinder, Caroline Bryson, Susan Purdon, Penny Mansfield and Lester Coleman, suggests that the current divorce process encourages dishonesty, causes unnecessary pain and suffering for children and their families and ultimately undermines the aims of the family justice system. The research calls on the government to implement no fault divorce, which is broadly favoured by family lawyers and legal groups such as Resolution.

Amongst some of the report’s findings, is that being forced to choose a ground for divorce leads to parties having to exaggerate claims about bad behaviour or adultery. This, the Nuffield Foundation suggests, invites partners to lie and sets the tone for more dishonesty throughout the process. The report’s researchers go on to call for a complete rehaul of the divorce process.

Our question this is week then, is just this: what else inside the system do you think encourages dishonesty, not just between parents but family professionals too?

You can read the report in full here. 

The Commons Library also has a Briefing Paper on No Fault Divorce. 

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In The News

Child welfare stories that should be right on your radar:

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Council Put Children’s Lives At Risk To Cut Costs

A whistleblower who worked as a social worker for Worcestershire County Council, has called out the local authority for its unethical practices which placed children’s lives in danger. 

The whistleblower, who was part of the council’s failing children’s services team, says the local authority prioritised cuts above everything else, and bullied and intimidated social workers who refused to put quantity before quality when it came to preparing child protection assessments.

Further claims made by the former social worker include:

• That “stressed and tired” social workers were exploited – with some working 25 hours without pay, on top of their contracted hours.

• Several social workers were going on sick leave due to stress.

• One social worker went to work with a broken hand, afraid of the consequences of not meeting a deadline.

• A social worker dealing with 40 cases – more than the maximum which is meant to be 18.

• Social workers being told to ignore producing quality work and encouraged to assess children quickly.

• If social workers refused to disregard quality, “they were belittled”.

The article goes on to suggest that the council is trying ‘really hard’ to address these allegations and that monitoring body Ofsted has since acknowledged improvements made, but this begs the question – how is the council going about making these changes if there are no extra resources available?

Researching Reform does not think this is the only council in England and Wales implementing this policy or encouraging a culture of bullying within child protection teams. We very much hope more whistleblowers from other councils will come forward.

Many thanks to Michele Simmons for alerting us to this story.

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LANDMARK RULING: Foster Children Can Now Sue Local Authorities For Abuse

A Supreme Court ruling which has overturned previous precedent and made history, will now allow children abused whilst in foster care to sue the local authorities that placed them.

Those who have been abused, as well as child rights campaigners all over the country who have fought tirelessly to establish this duty of care which should have been acknowledged a long time ago, will be delighted by the ruling.

The case which came before the Supreme Court saw Natasha Armes, now 40, from Nottingham, win against Nottinghamshire County Council after Supreme Court justices ruled by a majority of four-to-one that it was liable for abuse she suffered as a child 30 years ago.

The Supreme Court justices found the local authority was vicariously liable for the abuse Natasha suffered at the hands of her foster parents, but bizarrely, concluded that the council was not negligent in choosing or supervising them, even though the local authority had recruited, selected and trained the foster parents, paid for their expenses and supervised the fostering.

Nevertheless, the decision now means that councils can be held liable for abuse committed by foster carers, whether recent or non recent.

The key part of the judgment connects foster parents with the local authority:

“Although the picture presented is not without complexity, nevertheless when considered as a whole it points toward the conclusion that the foster parents provided care to the child as an integral part of the local authority’s organisation of its child care services.”

An incredibly encouraging development, and hats off to the justices involved in this case, who had the courage to do what needed to be done. We can guess which judges were involved.

The legal relatiosnhip between local authorities and foster carers was always there. Today, the law has closed a terrible loophole that claimed the lives of far too many children, and took the childhoods of countless more. We very much hope local authorities will now be looking at their recruiting procedures and finding ways to make them much, much more secure.

You can read the judgment and press summary here.

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