If you were a paedophile what would be your perfect job? That's right – working for a local authority children's home. In recognition of this, various box ticking safeguards are offered. However, while these represent a nuisance and an insult to the innocent, they are ineffective in stopping culprits. Jimmy Savile would have passed a CRB with no difficulty. So would Harold Shipman.
So it is important for local councillors to visit children's homes and talk to the children in them to find out what is going on. Where there are failings it is right that the council should be held accountable. Reflecting on the BBC's coverage, John Redwood blogged yesterday:
Would they have constantly repeated the word Labour, if the senior figure had been from that party, or sufficed themselves with a general word like politician? Why, in the North Wales abuse cases, did the BBC not constantly refer also to Clwyd Council, the Council responsible for the childrens’ homes? Clwyd was certainly not a Conservative Council. Why did they not add the Labour party label to a very nasty set of incidents if they thought the fact that it was a national Conservative government mattered? Why didn’t the unpublished Clwyd report into the abuse crisis become a matter of interest, as well as the wide ranging enquiry ordered and published by Conservative Ministers?
Clwyd Council no longer exists and during the periods of abuse the Labour Party were the largest political group. There were lots of independent councillors, as is still a feature of Welsh politics, so Labour didn't tend to have an overall majority, but it was certainly a left wing council. In 1982 it declared itself a nuclear free zone. In 1983 it put up rates by 16%. In 1987 it bought a castle.
At the same time the following was happening, as The Independent recorded in 1996:
Take these facts: probably more than 100, possibly more than 200 children were sexually abused in the children's homes of one county council. At least 12 of them, perhaps as many as 16, are now dead, some by suicide. Prominent public figures were persistently rumoured to be among the abusers, members of a paedophile ring to whom the children were supplied as sexual playthings.
The abuse continued, in an organised manner, for 10 years and more, making this council's homes a "gulag archipelago" of misery for the hapless children exiled into them; but the council itself, and the social work inspectorate, and the relevant government department, and the local police, all failed to stop it for a decade.
Among the points made in the Waterhouse Report in 2000 was that councillors didn't visit much, and the visits they made were ineffective. The report said:
It cannot be said that the quality of surveillance in Clwyd, however, was sufficient to provide any protection for children in residential care against such abuse.
A notable feature of the evidence before the Tribunal has been the lack of any personal contact between children in residential care in Clwyd and anyone from the outside world (using that expression in the broadest sense)…
Changing structures did not encourage an individual councillor's sense of continuing personal responsibility for the welfare of the children in specific community homes. It must be said, however, that whilst it remained in existence the Management Committee for the three Wrexham homes did meet quarterly at each of the homes in turn and these meetings did provide an opportunity for contact. Unfortunately, however, none of the former residents of the homes recalls actual, meaningful contact with any councillor on these or any other occasions.
We have been left with a lasting impression of councillors' unease and uncertainty about their role as visitors. We accept that they were encouraged by senior officials to perform this duty: they were, for
example, issued with guidance on what to do and with simple forms to complete by way of reports upon their visits but their unease persisted and their reports were almost invariably limited to matters of domestic physical detail, such as the state of the lavatories, or neighbourhood issues.
The unhappiness of councillors with their role as visitors was reflected in diminishing attendance…
As well as trying to find out if children are being sexually abused in these institutions councillors should be asking themselves if the children really need to be in them. Is it really impossible for them to be with foster carers, or boarding school, or adopted?
As many children's homes should be closed as possible.