IICSA today published its most recent report on children in the care of the Nottinghamshire councils. It does not make easy reading for the councils involved.
This investigation examined institutional responses to allegations of sexual abuse of children in the care of Nottinghamshire County Council, Nottingham City Council, and other organisations such as Nottinghamshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and to consider the appropriateness of steps taken to protect these children from abuse.
In the course of this investigation IICSA received evidence from about 350 complainants who made allegations of sexual abuse whilst in the care of the Councils from the 1960s onwards. This is the largest number of allegations of sexual abuse in a single investigation that IICSA has investigated to date.
IICSA found that the councils had failed in their statutory duty to protect children in their care from sexual abuse and had in fact exposed them to the risk, and reality, of sexual abuse perpetrated by residential staff and foster carers to whom their care had been entrusted by the councils.
Whilst both councils had safeguards and child protection policies in place, staff often failed to understand what was required of them in order to protect the children under their care and the councils took no action against those members of staff who did not comply. IICSA found that in the residential setting the evidence was that the situation was further exacerbated by poor recruitment practices, few qualified staff, little in-service training, overcrowding and low staffing ratios.
IICSA issued a stern reminder to all who are responsible for the care of children that regardless of the limitations that any organisation/institution operates under staff must always remember that the sexual abuse of children is a criminal offence.
IICSA noted that both councils had commissioned a number of reviews which identified the changes that needed to be made to stop the sexual abuse of the children in their care but had not learned from their mistakes..
Over three decades (i.e. from the 1970’s to the 1990’s) children in residential and foster care with the Councils were exposed to physical abuse, violence and sexual abuse which included rapes, sexual assaults, and voyeurism. Sexual activities also took place between children in care.
16 residential staff were convicted of sexual abuse of children in residential care, 10 foster carers were convicted of sexual abuse of their foster children, and IICSA said it was aware of 12 convictions relating to the harmful sexual behaviour of children against other children in care.
IICSA concluded that neither of the Councils had a satisfactory approach to addressing the issue of harmful sexual behaviour of children in care and more importantly it noted that while there is currently a greater understanding of this issue, there is no national strategy or framework for the prevention of, or response to, harmful sexual behaviour between children in care.
The Police only commenced investigations into allegations of non-recent abuse of children in residential care in 2011 and IICSA pointed out that these investigations were under resourced, did not treat allegations seriously enough and time was lost. IICSA noted that efforts were now being made by Nottinghamshire Police to address these issues.
The councils took different approaches to apologising. Nottinghamshire Council had made public apology while Nottingham City Council had been slow to apologise. There are ongoing issues in the provision and consistency of support and counselling for those who have suffered sexual abuse in care.
The following recommendations were made:
- “Nottingham City Council should assess the potential risks posed by current and former foster carers directly provided by the council in relation to the sexual abuse of children. They should also ensure that current and former foster carers provided by external agencies are assessed by those agencies. Any concerns which arise should be referred to the appropriate body or process, including the Disclosure and Barring Service, the local authority designated officer (LADO) or equivalent, the fostering panel and the police.
- Nottinghamshire County Council should assess the potential risks posed by current and former residential care staff and foster carers, which are directly provided by the council, in relation to the sexual abuse of children. They should also ensure that current and former staff in residential care provided by external agencies, and current and former foster carers provided by external agencies, are assessed by those agencies. Any concerns which arise should be referred to the appropriate body or process, including the Disclosure and Barring Service, the relevant regulatory body, the local authority designated officer (LADO), the fostering panel and the police.
- Nottingham City Council and its child protection partners should commission an independent, external evaluation of their practice concerning harmful sexual behaviour, including responses, prevention, assessment, intervention and workforce development. An action plan should be set up to ensure that any recommendations are responded to in a timely manner and progress should be reported to City’s Safeguarding Children Partnership.”
This report is a particularly damning report for the two councils involved however, the report is essential reading for other local authorities so that they can now consider the issues identified in the course of this investigation and take the necessary steps to get their own house is order.
Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM