The Department for Children, Schools and Families has resisted calls for a public inquiry into the alleged abuse of girls placed in a church-run children’s home in the 1980s, which was first exposed by Community Care more than a year ago.
Evidence, including a TV documentary in 1980, indicates that looked-after children were heavily drugged and may have been sexually abused at Kendall House, in Gravesend, Kent.
The Church of England, which ran the home, told Community Care in December 2007 that it would not investigate abuse allegations.
Former resident Teresa Cooper (pictured, right), who was placed in the home in the early 1980s, has campaigned for an inquiry. Her files show she was drugged daily and a letter sent to Cooper’s GP, accompanying an anal swab taken by staff at the home, says it is “likely she has been sexually abused”.
However, a DCSF spokesperson said the government had already commissioned two major reviews into historical abuse in children’s homes – William Utting’s 1997 People Like Us report and Ronald Waterhouse’s 1999 Lost in Care study into abuse in North Wales homes.
These led to the changes to the regulatory framework under the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001, including standards on the control and issuing of medicines.
The spokesperson added: “The two previous inquiries did not suggest that inappropriate use of drugs was a more widespread problem beyond Kendall House. Tighter controls have been put in place, which address all the issues raised by Kendall House. We cannot therefore see the merits of commissinoing a further inquiry at this point.”
Community Care has spoken to two other women about their experiences of being placed in the home.
Amanda*, now a mother of four, was a 12-year-old runaway when she was sent to Kendall House in 1983. She had been from home to home and had a history of absconding.
“It was difficult to keep me anywhere. They just wanted to keep me somewhere secure and Kendall House was the only place that would accept me. I was there three weeks before they started drugging me and it was to shut me up. I never met Dr Peri (the home’s psychiatrist) but he said I needed to be completely sedated for two weeks to stop me being loud. I remember Teresa. I hardly saw her because she was in the sick bay. She was there for a very long time. I remember her because she used to shuffle around, rather than walk, and she used to slur. When I met her again last year I couldn’t believe how alive she was. I would be given pills at morning, lunch and dinner, as well as the injections, whenever they felt like it.
“We were allowed to write letters but the staff used to read them so I managed to smuggle one out to my mum and stepdad saying I was being drugged and given injections. They went to Kendall House but they were told I was a tearaway and they told a lot of lies about me. They convinced my mum and dad that they needed to do what they were doing and they weren’t bothered. It’s not as if they wanted me home.”
Another woman, who does not want to be named, says: “It was a hell hole. I was there for 18 months and I was 13 when I went in. I did not understand why I was given drugs. Girls who were bullies didn’t get them. It was a select few. After 18 months I went back to foster care and I was given a supply of drugs. My doctor said it was a large dose, which you would give to a man. I was given drugs three or four times a day some days, then other times it would be once a day – tablets and liquids. The drugs made you feel ill. I was walking around like an idiot.”
National media coverage
This week, the Today programme and Newsnight ran a story claiming that the huge quantities of drugs given to the girls may have led them to have children with birth defects.
Jeffrey Aronson, professor of clinical pharmacology at Oxford University, told the BBC said that the amounts of drugs given to Cooper was unacceptable. He added that there was evidence that the drugs could have caused birth defects in Cooper’s three children. Her eldest child was born with respiratory difficulties, her second was born blind with learning disabilities and her youngest with a cleft palate.
The Church of England did not offer anyone for interview on Newsnight, but gave a statement saying it would co-operate if an investigation was required.
The Care Leavers Association said it was seeking an urgent meeting with Church of England to call for a “full and comprehensive inquiry.”
CLA chair Will McMahon said a number of care leavers had repeatedly raised concerns about the use of drugs in the care system and urged the Church to allow independent access to its records.
“The leadership of the Church of England needs to explain what it knew and when, and what steps it took in response,” he said.