Submitted by NCH (CA 86)
NCH'S INVOLVEMENT IN INVESTIGATIONS OF PAST ABUSE IN CHILDREN'S HOMES
NCH is pleased to contribute to this important inquiry. We currently run 460 projects, 57 of which are residential. In total we work with 89,000 children every year.
As our name suggests, NCH, previously known as The National Children's Home, has a long history of offering residential care services to children and young people. Unfortunately, as we now know that child sex offenders successfully infiltrated children's homes run in all sectors during previous decades, it is not surprising that NCH has also been affected by this phenomenon.
In all, NCH has been and currently is involved in eight Police investigations regarding allegations of past abuse in England and Wales relating to 11 homes, only one of which is still open.
To date these investigations have resulted in 17 convictions of ex-members of NCH staff and 259 civil claims against NCH, as identified by our insurers.
NCH has always cooperated fully with Police investigations and, generally speaking, we have found the Police forces with which we have engaged to be committed and professional in their work in this most sensitive area.
The only issue that has presented difficulties for us has been the conflict between the duty of the Police to investigate fully and NCH's duty to maintain public interest immunity in regard to ex-residents' files. Despite this issue having been raised on many occasions there has still been no Government guidance produced to resolve it, and it remains the case that each investigation has to negotiate this issue afresh. This is in no one's interest and such guidance is long overdue.
ANSWERS TO THE GENERAL QUESTIONS ASKED BY THE INQUIRY
1. NCH thinks it is important to recognise that the issue of how to respond to allegations of past abuse is not restricted to England and Wales. There have been large scale investigations of abuse in both Canada and Ireland. Both these countries have accepted that these issues are difficult to deal with within the usual criminal and civil legal processes and that these unfairly disadvantage those making allegations. They have developed other, more appropriate means of seeking justice in these cases, from which we believe we have much to learn in England and Wales.
The investigation of these cases has relevance to child protection today as well as in the past, since how allegations are dealt with gives clear messages to children and young people today about whether their complaints are likely to be heard and listened to.
If the Police do not consider all possible allegations these cases will invariably rest on the word of one person against another. Often, those who are alleging abuse are from disadvantaged backgrounds and are not perceived to be good witnesses. It is also clear that the experience of abuse in institutional care can in itself hamper a person's ability to be a good witness.
NCH would urge that any proposed changes to the ways in which the Police investigate allegations of past abuse should take into account the difficulties that ex-residents have in making allegations, and the affects of institutional abuse on their abilities to be perceived to be good witnesses.
2. NCH's experience is that the Crown Prosecution Service does not draw a consistent line in regard to these cases across England and Wales, so it is not possible to say whether, as a whole, the line is a sensible one. However, it is still the case that most sexual offences against children are not reported and of those that are, few ever reach court. Some of those making allegations today state that they did speak out when the abuse was happening, but professionals took no action as at that time it was not accepted that abuse of this nature took place.
These issues need to be addressed when setting thresholds and, once set, the thresholds should be consistent throughout the different offices of the Crown Prosecution Service across England and Wales.
3. NCH would not be in favour of a time limit for these types of allegations because, as we have suggested, we already believe there are barriers in the way of people making these types of allegations and we would not wish to see them further disadvantaged.
When the offence takes place the person will be a child or young person who may very well not be aware of the process for making a complaint, or may feel intimidated by the alleged abuser or the Police investigation and court process. As we have said, the impact of the abuse itself often makes it difficult for people to go through the legal process and ex-residents may need support in doing this, as it causes them to relive the experience of having being abused. Other factors in their lives may also affect when they feel able to do this.
4. NCH is not aware that large compensation awards for those abused have been advertised. Before any ex-resident can successfully claim compensation they will have to undergo a lengthy and challenging civil process, very possibly in addition to the criminal process. Often this will involve them giving their account in open court with the alleged abuser present.
NCH is concerned that the present system for dealing with past allegations of abuse does not adequately meet the needs of any of the parties involved. We would welcome a debate about how justice can be achieved more efficiently and with less distress to all involved, informed by information about how these issues are dealt with in other comparable jurisdictions, such as Canada and Ireland.
Finally, above all, NCH would urge that any changes in the process of investigating allegations of past abuse should take into account what is now known about survivors of institutional abuse and those who abuse, as well as taking into consideration the difficulties that the criminal and civil processes can pose for the welfare of all involved.