Who has failed to protect children from sexual abuse?

Kate Snowden explains how the Independent Inquiry Team will approach its wide-ranging investigation into child sexual abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales. It will identify institutional failings where they are found to exist. It will demand accountability for past institutional failings. It will support victims and survivors to share their experience of sexual abuse. And it will make practical recommendations to ensure that children are given the care and protection they need.
The Inquiry is independent of the government. It is led by Hon. Lowell Goddard DNZM who is supported by a panel, a Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel, and other expert advisers.

The independent inquiry into child sex abuse was officially opened on the 9 July 2015 by Hon. Lowell Goddard DNZM. The inquiry aims to look at current and also non-recent incidents of child sex abuse. The term ‘non-recent’ is used rather than ‘historic’, to highlight that while the abuse may have ended, the impact of the abuse is still likely to be experienced to this day by the individuals and families affected by child sex abuse.

It is predicted that the inquiry will be completed by the end of 2020. There are to be yearly reports and an interim report in 2018 which will be available for everybody to read.

The inquiry will investigate a wide range of institutions including;
•local authorities
•the police
•the Crown Prosecution Service
•the Immigration Service
•the BBC
•the armed forces
•children’s homes
•churches, mosques and other religious organisations
•charities and voluntary organisations

The inquiry aims to identify where there have been institutional failings and accountability will be expected and sought. Importantly the inquiry will make practical recommendations to ensure that children are given the care and protection they need.

The Research Project: A thorough literature review is being carried out to bring together for the first time an analysis of all the published work addressing institutional failures in child protection. Led by an expert Academic Advisory Board, the research aims to better understand the scale of the problem and to identify recommendations for change.

The Truth Project: The experiences of the victims and survivors are central to the inquiry. The patterns of institutional failures can not be understood without hearing from those who suffered as a consequence of those failures.

As professionals working with people with learning disabilities we recognise that our clients may struggle to get heard and be visible. It is absolutely crucial that we all take this opportunity now to support our clients to be aware of this inquiry and to enable them to contribute and to finally experience being heard.

The recent Barnardo’s report “Unprotected, Overprotected” looks at young people with learning disabilities being at higher risk of sexual exploitation compared to their non-learning disabled peers (see page 7). So looking back in time we may well suspect that a higher number of children who were sexually abused in institutions had learning disabilities. The report highlights that society today still fails to recognise that young people with learning disabilities are at risk of child sexual exploitation. If our current society continues to struggle to recognise the vulnerabilities of young people with learning disabilities we can only imagine that historically this issue was even more ignored, invisible and unknown.

There continues to be a lack of focus in national policy for young people with learning disabilities, both at a strategic and operational level. Now is the time that we can support our clients to tell their stories and give them the opportunity to have an impact on future recommendations for organisations that care for children.

The inquiry wants to hear from anyone who was sexually abused as a child in an institutional setting like a care home, a school, or a religious, voluntary or state organisation. They also want to hear from anyone who reported their sexual abuse as a child to a person in authority where the report was either ignored or not properly acted on (see panel). The inquiry is required to pass on any information about child abuse to the police. However, they will not pass on the name or contact details without consent, except where it is necessary to protect a child at risk of continuing abuse.

A Victims and Survivors’ Consultative Panel (‘VSCP’) has been set up to advise the inquiry on its relationship with victims and survivors. They will also contribute to the sizeable work of the inquiry. Alongside the VSCP, the Inquiry has launched a Victims and Survivors’ Forum as a self-nominating network to discuss the work of the inquiry and to contribute its views on progress. The Forum will have open public meetings four times a year. If you would like to join the Forum or if you are working with a client who would like to join then support them to send an email marked ‘Victims and Survivors Forum’ to: contact@csa-inquiry.independent.gov.uk.

The Public Hearings Project: The inquiry will select case studies from a range of institutions that appear to illustrate a wider pattern of institutional failings. Evidence is likely to be taken from both representatives of the institutions under investigation and from victims and survivors of sexual abuse. Each hearing will last for around six weeks and the inquiry expects to hold up to 30 separate hearings. The evidence heard in the case studies will assist the inquiry in drawing conclusions about the patterns of child protection failings across a range of institutions. The first Public Hearings are likely to start in 2016.

A message for professionals: The inquiry wants to hear from professionals, including care home workers, social workers, NHS staff, teachers, local authority staff and police officers. If you currently work or used to work in an institution or situation where you were involved in the care of, or protection of children and have information to share, the inquiry needs to hear from you. Whistleblowers will be protected.

Hon. Lowell Goddard urges us all to “Take a proactive stance towards the inquiry – review your files, records and procedures voluntarily and take the initiative to self-report instances of institutional failure, rather than waiting for us to come and see you. Above all, review your current safeguarding policies to make sure they are consistent with best practice, and take whatever steps you can to provide a safer environment for children now.”

Do you have anything you want to say to the inquiry?
Here’s what you should do
Call the helpline on 0800 917 1000
Email: share@csa-inquiry.independent.gov.uk
Write to the: Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse,
PO Box 72289, London, SW1P 9LF
You can also tell the inquiry what happened to you online on the website https://www.csa-inquiry.independent.gov.uk/

a) The inquiry will contact you if you want them to
Someone from the inquiry team will contact you within 15 days, before if it is urgent. They may ask you to tell them more about what happened to you. This can be done over the phone, or they will send you a guide about how to write it down, or arrange for you to talk to someone on your own.

b) Talk in private to a member of the inquiry
You can tell what happened to you to just one person. You can bring family, friends, or other support with you. A counsellor will be there for extra support if you would like it. What you say will be recorded and a summary will be written down. You will have the chance to check the summary and change or add anything. No one outside will be able to read what you have said. You will receive a phone call a week later to see how you are feeling. If you would like more help because of what happened to you then you can be referred to another service in your local area.

c) Your experience will help the people doing the inquiry
What you say will help the people doing the inquiry to write their reports and say what should be done to protect people like you in future. Your name will not be made public.

d) Give your advice
If you share what has happened to you with a member of the inquiry team you will have the chance to leave a short message. You could say what happened to you and how it affected you and others, or how you feel children could be better protected. Nobody’s name will be mentioned in these messages. The messages will be published with the yearly report for the nation to read.

Barnardo’s, (2015). Unprotected, overprotected: meeting the needs of young people with learning disabilities who experience, or are at risk of sexual exploitation.

Kate Snowden is a psychotherapist with the Young People’s Service and the Forensic Service at Respond