Submitted by the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) (CA 117)
The ADSS is committed to the principle that all child abuse allegations should be investigated fully, frankly, openly and fairly. Within this context it is crucial that the process of law enforcement and support to victims operates in an open and fair climate. The overriding principle of child protection work for many years has been the co-operation of agencies on the basis of the welfare and the interest of the child or victim being paramount. Investigations into allegations of abuse taking place in the past in Children's Homes are some of the most complex and difficult areas of police and multi-agency investigation. They concern serious arrestable offences committed against some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The key issues ADSS wish to emphasis are in relation to the five points are:
1. DO POLICE METHODS OF TRAWLING FOR EVIDENCE INVOLVE A DISPROPORTIONATE USE OF RESOURCES AND PRODUCE UNRELIABLE EVIDENCE FOR PROSECUTION?
Many of the victims of institutional abuse are the most vulnerable, damaged and uncertain members of our society. By its very nature abuse in Children's Homes is based upon the abuse of power and such power is used to silence young people. In order to gain appropriate evidence to put before a court, police and joint investigations have made use of enquiries that seek comment from young people resident at the time of the alleged abuse. This allows people who would support the accusations and those who would deny them to come forward. Such methods are used not at random, but based on initial complaints and evidence from young people. This is a valid investigation process that seeks witness, corroboration or denial in order to put a fair case to the court.
This style of evidence gathering is less in use now and the focus of work on painstaking intelligence gathering to build up a picture of life in Children's Homes and thereby enable investigating officers to corroborate or disprove allegations is a prevalent method. This method also involves complex and positive joint work between Health, Social Care and Police agencies.
2. IS THE CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE DRAWING A SENSIBLE LINE ABOUT WHICH CASES SHOULD BE PROSECUTED?
There are clear protocols within which the Crown Prosecution Service work. These are fairly applied. It is often the case that the CPS advise investigations that they have insufficient evidence to proceed. The very nature of the evidence that children and young people can give some years after the abuse is difficult. They do not choose to make allegations at the time of the abuse because of the threats and intimidation used in the abuse of power. They need to feel confident and safe and that it is an appropriate time in their life to give evidence. Many of the young people have suffered episodes of mental ill health and trauma and when placed under severe pressure in the witness box may not always give the strongest evidence. There has been cause for concern in the past over the evidence of people with a learning disability being not accepted in court and yet the strength and veracity of the statements have often been clear. It is a difficult line for the CPS. It is a concern that vulnerable young adults and children with disabilities may not be able within the system to give evidence, this of course makes them a more likely victim of abuse of predatory paedophiles on the basis that their evidence is unlikely to be believed.
The very nature of a young person's care status threatens to undermine their credibility and provides access to written information about them through case files which would not happen for witnesses who had not been in care.
3. SHOULD THERE BE A TIME LIMIT ON PROSECUTION?
Much work has been done by Social Services, Police and Local Authorities to improve the quality of care and safety in Children's Homes. This means that many cases of child abuse will dwindle. However, we need to face the problems that have occurred in the past, learn from these, improve our practice and do the right thing by young people who were taken into care for their protection and development who were subsequently victims of abuse.
Abusers target children who are unlikely to tell. Children choose the point in their life when they feel capable, safe and able to tell. This can often be at a point in their own development where they have stable support and families around them or have children of their own. If the Statute of Limitation were shortened this would prohibit justice being brought to these young people.
4. IS THERE A RISK OF THE ADVERTISING OF COMPENSATION ENCOURAGING FABRICATION?
The issue of compensation is a complex one in this area. Some Local Authorities have not been allowed to apologise to young people for the wrongs done them because of the requirements of the Insurance companies not to admit fault. There are few cases of high profile, high cost payments to children and young people. The investigation process is complex, rigorous and demanding and it is unlikely that many young people will want to go through this and the public trauma of exposing the level of abuse they have suffered for what is a small financial reward. Such a rigorous process also offers protection against fabrication because corroboration around the circumstances of the abuse is always sought. There is little or no advertising of compensation. There is legitimate information about criminal injuries compensation schemes or the ordinary right of a citizen to make a civil claim and this to be judged by the courts.
The trauma for victims is enormous. Many want only the acknowledgement of the wrong they were done and the prevention of future victims. There is an issue beyond advertising compensation to the process of insurance and compensation where the use of an apology and a finding of fault are prohibited by financial and business practice.
It is the view of the ADSS that this is a complex and important area of multi-agency work. It is a demonstration of the way we preserve the rights of children and vulnerable young adults in our society. It is of course appropriate that scrutiny should be brought to bear on the methods used so that we can learn and improve our practice. However, it is not the view of ADSS that this field is full of young people making spurious claims in order to gain financial advantage or for malicious intent. Rather it is our experience that sadly many children were the victim of abuse and are suffering the long-term effects of it in their adult lives. They should have the right to legitimate protection of the law and the support of the community to enable them to live full valid and respected lives.