Sir Ronald Waterhouse completed his inquiry into the abuse of
children in north Wales children’s homes in early 2000. He
recommended every local authority should appoint “an appropriately
qualified or experienced children’s complaints officer”.
The two councils involved in the scandal – Clwyd and Gwynedd – were
both found to have “grossly defective” complaints procedures. This
contributed to failures by the authorities to stop the horrific
abuse of more than 250 children over a 16-year period
We know there are considerable advantages of having an officer who
understands the Children Act 1989, but is also able to act quickly
if necessary helped by close contact with child protection
Now, nearly four years after Waterhouse’s report Lost in Care was
published, research suggests that only a quarter of local
authorities in England and Wales have appointed an officer
dedicated to dealing with complaints from children themselves.
The councils without such a post may have a “designated complaints
officer” who deals with all complaints to the council. More than
half of these people have no background in social work, or if they
do, it might be in adult services only.
These findings are very disturbing for anyone who wants to see
vulnerable children given the protection they need. Children need
to know there is someone they can contact who will be appropriately
trained and empowered to act on their behalf.
Can there be an excuse for failing to respond to the Waterhouse
recommendations? The answer is surely “no”. We don’t know the
reasons for the failure. We can guess that lack of resources is one
issue, but what can be more crucial than providing a voice for
children in danger of abuse?
Or perhaps, as was suggested by one council last year when the
Welsh children’s commissioner Peter Clarke was critical of local
authorities on this issue, the authorities themselves have a better
idea? But surely after examining the evidence of hundreds of
victims of abuse, Waterhouse knew what he was talking about.