By Jim Lim
There have been widespread reports, both public media & statutory reports, and Government inquiries on the scale of horrific child cruelty and abuse in Britain, throughout the 60’s until the late 90’s.
I am referring in the main to abuse within residential institutions where children are placed and go on to reside throughout the majority of their “growing up” lives.
The irony and tragedy is that vulnerable and deprived children in need of protection and care, are cruelly exploited and abused by those most trusted to look after them.
The majority of such publicised cases occured during the period where residential care or orphanages were the main depositories for such children. Starting from the early part of the last century, many of the orphans, street waifs, and unwanted bastards were cared for by the voluntary religious organizations.
My own role as a Manager
I trained as a social worker in UK in the 70’s and after some years, I was promoted as a Residential Services Manager, running around 15 such Homes across Tower Hamlets Borough in east London and parts of Essex. Each Home cared for up to 20 children, from aged 5 onwards, although younger ones tended to be placed with substitute families employed by the local authorities.
During my time, there were about 200 children in residential care in our Local Authority, the rest were placed with families and care homes run by NGO’s.
One of the most challenging aspects I found in managing that kind of resources and ensuring the Homes provided the safety and care, was getting the right personnel. It was crucial that we employed and trained people who are suitable and not the ones who may “disguise” unsuitable tendencies towards children. Our recruitment approach therefore was very rigorous.
Despite that, and in my five (5) years in that role, I had numerous experiences where staff was effectively dismissed for their unsuitability and where disciplinary action was often the norm, from a management quality assurance perspective.
What my experience tells me.
There are always going to be incidences where adults would abuse children and I am not referring to anything close to physical chastisement.
The abuse I am referring to are those where children are “used” in ways to satisfy adult pleasures, from satisfying sadistic urges , voyeurism to sexual urges and at worst, being used as prostitutes.
Besides phasing out and severely limiting the use of large institutions to house such children, responsible authorities must also introduce measures to prevent such incidences. That means adopting genuine policies and procedures to be vigorous in the whole process of selection and recruitment as well as continuous staff performance assessments so that staff later found unsuitable can be weeded out.
There is no compromise on this, such individuals cannot be protected. Hence, the Register for those deemed as unsuitable, from sexual offenders to dismissals from professional work activity must be relied upon.
Therefore, when there are stories now being told about abuse in such establishments whether run by well-meaning charities, mosques, churches or temples, we must take them seriously.
The Homes may appear nice and welcoming on the outside but we cannot know its safeguarding effectiveness unless we have introduced our SOP to ensure we get resident/user feedback, peer group observations and independent inspections carried out by people knowledgeable in the field.
At a higher level, the Government needs to strengthen the Child Safety Act and emphasise the importance of multi-disciplinary agency collaboration. They must include outside inspections as routine and establish a hotline for both residents and whistleblowers.
After early optimism from the former Pakatan Harapan (PH) Government on its plan to pass the Social Workers’ Act last year, hopes appear dashed now as the current Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration is quiet on the matter. Of late, they have deferred comment on child marriages and on abuse help lines.
In short, we must listen to children and to those who have been through the “care system” as they are likely to reveal the better reality, if not truth, about their own experience.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor)
Jim Lim is a former Director of Social Services in a London Borough, a former CEO of a charity. He is retired and is from Penang. He is a Member of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers.