Anger at abuse panel
The following article by Stephen Naysmith appeared on the Herald Scotland website on the 8th March
Anger at Abuse Panel
The chair of a panel set up to acknowledge and record accounts of abuse in residential child care has defended the approach over fears it will exclude some victims.
Tom Shaw, former Chief Inspector of Education & Training in Northern Ireland, is to head up a three person pilot forum, dubbed Time to be Heard. The forum will invite 100 former residents of homes run by the charity Quarriers to come forward and tell their stories, to test the format.
The independent forum was announced by the Scottish Government last year as part of its response to Mr Shaw’s own report on historic abuse. It was initially described as an independent “acknowledgement and accountability” body which would allow victims of abuse to achieve closure through a truth-and-reconciliation type approach.
However Mr Shaw and government officials have faced criticism over the pilot scheme amid claims that it has been watered down, with the “accountability” element dropped and concerns that it will be too close to government.
Meanwhile groups representing victims and survivors of institutional childhood abuse have also responded angrily to the selection of Quarriers as partners in the pilot forum. Some resent the fact that adults whose abuse occurred under organisations other than Quarriers cannot participate, and there are fears that some elderly or unwell abuse survivors may be running short of time to have their say.
Helen Holland, is former vice chair of the organisation In Care Abuse Survivors and sat on planning groups related to the historic abuse report and the pilot forum itself. She said she and others were in the dark about the involvement of Quarriers. “It just materialised in the last six months and was quite a surprise to survivors.
“I think there is a feeling of division now among survivors. They don’t understand why only one group is involved, and some feel it is almost discriminatory.”
At a recent meeting of abuse survivors, a “large number” had been unhappy with it, Ms Holland said. “We have had no confirmation that there will be something at the end of the pilot forum. When they were asked if they could guarantee survivors who are not being heard at this stage that their voices would be heard in the future, civil servants could not.”
“There are a lot of elderly and infirm survivors and their voices need to be recorded.”
Mrs Holland herself suffered eight years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse during ten years in the care of Catholic organisation the Sisters of Nazareth.
In the Republic of Ireland, addressing similar historic abuse, a forum was also set up which was open to all from the start, with no pilot, she said. There was also the option of pursuing compensation and reparation through other bodies. “The fact that this is happening at all is a good thing,” she said of Time to Be Heard, but added: “We have had no explanation as to why accountability has been dropped. A lot of people feel that what Scotland is getting is second best.”
Mr Shaw acknowledged that there were concerns about the pilot among abuse survivors. He said the pilot forum had been the government’s idea, but added: “I thought it would be a good thing to provide an opportunity for former residents to come forward and recount their experiences in a confidential setting. We have all tried to make clear that this is about testing whether this is an effective way of allowing people to be acknowledged and have their experiences recorded as part of a historical record.”
He said there would be benefits for those who took part in the pilot, but the process would also provide insights into residential childcare and ways to ensure that future abuse is more likely to be prevented. Mr Shaw also said that he acknowledged the concerns of people who are former residents of institutions other than Quarriers but said that in order to get the pilot out of the way quickly, it had seemed like a good idea to focus on residents of a particular institution.
“Over the years Quarriers has been the provider of child care to a large number of people – 30,000 or so over the period, and a provider all over Scotland. We saw benefits in that,”
“This might well encourage other institutions to associate themselves with whatever arises to follow up from the pilot.”
Concerns about the process have also been expressed by a group representing former Quarriers children. David Whelan, spokesman for Former Boys and Girls Abused of Quarriers Homes (FBGA) said the forum would not provide what his group wished to see – proper accountability for organisations which had been responsible for historic abuse.
He said: “I am concerned this process is just a talking shop and we don’t want that. Just going to talk about things is not going to resolve any issues. Institutions need to take on full responsibility for what occurred.”
He added that many former Quarriers residents were concerned that the format would encourage false claims, which would devalue the stories of genuine abuse survivors. “The process needs to be robust and to ask questions. It has to be credible.”
Last month the Scottish Centre for Human Rights said that the government should develop a reparations programme which included compensation for individuals affected by historic childhood abuse and look at developing laws to encourage apologies by institutions.
Mr Whelan said the FBGA welcomed the SCHR report and called for it to be implemented in full.
Mr Shaw said the pilot forum could only operate within the remit given to it by government, but added: “These concerns have been expressed back to the Scottish Government, but the commissioners and I are going to have to work to the remit we’ve been given. Some of the concerns addressed in the SHRC report are going to have to be addressed by the Scottish Government.” He added that there was value in the pilot in itself, and in its potential to improve future work with abuse survivors.
A communication programme is to be launched in April to appeal for former residents of Quarriers to come forward if they wish to be involved in the pilot.
Dr Phil Robinson, chief executive of Quarriers, said: “The Scottish Government approached Quarriers to support the Time To Be Heard pilot forum. Up to 100 people, who spent time in residential care at Quarriers will be invited to take part.”