Back in the days when CELCIS was the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care (SIRCC), there was only an early awareness of what we now know as historical abuse.
We knew that many children had really good experiences in residential care when they were young - they’d told us about it. We were also aware of Edinburgh's Children: The report of the Edinburgh inquiry into abuse and protection of children in care and the 2002 Fife Inquiry into abuse of children by care home manager David Murphy. But we only became more directly involved with this when the Chief Executive of a voluntary agency approached us asking what we were going to do about historical abuse.
As a result, we hosted a Seminar in 2002, where a number of voluntary and statutory agencies were invited to share experiences of the emergence of abuse of children in residential care. However, it quickly became evident that the experiences of children who had lived in these homes were missing. Yes, there were academic articles and Inquiry reports, but there was very little which recorded the views of those adults who had been abused as children whilst living in residential care. This information gap flew in the face of one of SIRCC’s fundamental objectives - to work in partnership with all services stakeholders.
We badly wanted to close that information gap, but it was a highly sensitive issue; how should an eminent residential care organisation approach people who had been so badly hurt and abused within residential care? The answer was just to be open and honest - to respect the wealth of experience that survivors and victim/survivors bring, and to admit when we didn’t know something or had got it wrong.
As one of those tasked with closing the information gap, I initially approached In Care Abuse Survivors (INCAS). Through them, I was also contacted by Former Boys and Girls Abuse (of Quarriers Homes). I was warmly welcomed, and members invited me to meet a wide range of other survivors. I met people who were in residential care from as far back as 1915. One common thread was that while all had suffered maltreatment either by an individual or by the wider care system, many were quick to tell of the good experiences, and spoke highly of individuals who were role models, those carers who inspired them and fought their corner.
It has been a long road for survivors to have their voices heard but I have shared a little of that journey with them.
I’ve visited the site of one children’s home with some survivors, and we spoke of their memories. And when possible I attend the annual memorial service run by survivors. As the Scottish Government agenda on addressing historical abuse gathered pace and we began working with Scottish Human Rights Commission, it was obvious that SIRCC, and later CELCIS, should play an important part in that work, and I’m still involved.
Sadly, time goes on, and I have now attended funeral services of some of those survivors I met on the way, but the journey continues. Many of us still strive for justice for survivors of historical abuse, and are working to ensure that it cannot happen to children in care today. It’s only by working in partnership, and hearing the voices and unique experiences of care leavers and survivors of institutional abuse, that justice can be contemplated, and children in care can be properly protected now, and into the future.
The Scottish Government is holding a public inquiry into historical child abuse in Scotland.