Behind the headlines

During the past decade, the arrests and convictions of
children’s home workers for child abuse have polarised debate. On
one side lobby groups for children and young people claim that
convicted workers got what they deserved, while on the other side
campaigners for care home workers say that many of the convictions
are unsafe and that police methods are prejudicial. In its recent
report, the House of Commons home affairs select committee called
for new safeguards to minimise the risk of wrongful convictions.
The committee said it had “deep concerns” over police interview
techniques and “trawling” methods in which former residents are
asked whether they experienced abuse. Its report speaks of a “new
genre of miscarriages of justice that has arisen from the
over-enthusiastic pursuit of these allegations”. In the past five
years, 34 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have been
involved in investigations of historical child abuse in children’s
homes and other institutions. But between 1997 and 2000 the Crown
Prosecution Service rejected 79 per cent of cases of institutional
abuse referred by the police.   

Karen Squillino, senior practitioner, Barnardo’s
“The over-zealous trawling techniques have no doubt caused
misery to some innocent people. Safeguards have to be put in place
to reduce the chance of miscarriages of justice. This situation
reminds me of the 1980s Cleveland inquiry. What we did learn from
that is that child sexual abuse was endemic to society. Abuse is a
major problem and we have to remember that some of the most
sophisticated offenders are those who have worked in residential

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers
“I was the only care leaver witness heard by this farcical
committee. Its crocodile tears for abuse victims contrast with the
favourable hearing given to those who appear to defend convicted
paedophiles. The committee has no evidence that innocent people
have been convicted, only the testimony of hack journalists. This
committee should be reprimanded by parliament for a failure to
collect serious evidence on such a sensitive matter and a clear
attempt to undermine bringing paedophiles to justice.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the
“Testing the validity of child abuse claims is a very
difficult and sensitive area and undoubtedly there have been some
cases of lives that have been destroyed by false accusations, as
well as young people’s lives that have been destroyed by abuse.
Instead of restrictions on the investigation process, the
government should put restrictions on the press, to stop people who
have been accused being identified until they have been convicted.
This would go some way to reduce the impact of false

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“We know from the experience of foster carers how devastating it is
to have serious allegations made against you which later prove to
be untrue. Most agencies have clear policies on handling
allegations, which ensure appropriate support for carers while
proper investigations take place. There must be a balance between
respecting the rights of former and current residential care staff
and respecting the vulnerability and powerlessness of those who
speak out. Not being believed when you have been abused is as
devastating as being wrongly accused – it may also have
repercussions for future victims. There are no easy solutions.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
“The guidelines are welcome. Investigations must be fair
and just. Workers have every right to expect the highest standards
when complaints are investigated. So do children and young people.
As the recent United Nations report stated, violence is prevalent
in our families and state institutions. The UN urged “respect for
children’s equal rights to human dignity and physical integrity”.
The government should act.

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