Abuse check on all foster parents

Crackdown after convicted paedophile assaulted children in his care
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The Independent Online
Checks on thousands of foster parents could be made in a national crackdown on paedophiles ordered by the Government last night after the conviction of a paedophile who was allowed to foster children, even though social workers knew he had a conviction for indecent assault on a 12-year-old boy.

Roger Saint yesterday was sentenced to six-and-a-half years imprisonment on 10 charges of indecent assault at Chester Crown Court. But the scandal of child abuse disclosed in the case - described as "wicked beyond belief" - caused a wave of disgust, disbelief and recrimination.

It prompted the Government to promise emergency regulations to close loopholes in two child care acts which allowed Saint to care for the children he molested in spite of having a criminal record for child abuse. A ban on child abusers being allowed to foster or adopt children was announced by Paul Boateng, the health minister responsible for child care.

Sir Herbert Laming, the Chief Inspector of Social Services, was also asked to conduct an urgent review. Sir Herbert is writing to every director of social services in the country ordering them to review the way they place children in care; the way they check and supervise staff; and to report back by the end of July.

The local authorities are responsible for the care of 49,000 children, including 32,000 who were placed with foster parents. A Whitehall source said: "It is not retrospective but we are aware that people could have convictions for child abuse and we are going to tackle it."

The action will be "spelled out" in guidelines to the authorities, but it is expected they will be asked to carry out checks to make sure there are no further cases of known paedophiles fostering children. The authorities have already carried out checks to discover whether there were other cases involving Roger Saint.

The court heard that in spite of his record, Saint was allowed to foster four children from Tower Hamlets, east London, in 1988; in 1991 he fostered another four from North Yorkshire; and he later fostered one child from Greenwich, south London, and another from North Tyneside. Social workers in each authority were aware of his criminal record from 25 years earlier. They decided he was no longer a risk to the children.

Saint, 50, was jailed for what the judge said was the "persistent and determined" sexual abuse of boys in his care over 13 years.

Michael Farmer QC, prosecuting, said local authorities had continued sending children into the care of Saint and his wife Carol despite knowing of the 1972 conviction for indecently assaulting a 12-year-old boy.

And the now-defunct Clwyd County Council had also allowed him to continue as a member of their fostering and adoption panel despite being told of the offence.

Saint, of Cefnddwysarn, near Bala, North Wales, had earlier admitted 10 charges of indecent assault involving nine children. He was arrested in March last year after two men complained to social services in Wrexham.

A 10-month investigation followed up 400 lines of inquiry. The court was told Saint's case was to be looked at by the North Wales child abuse tribunal, which is examining allegations of abuse of up to 200 children at homes in the area.

"This is a truly horrific case. This new government will not tolerate a loophole in the law that allows local authorities to place children for foster care or adoption with convicted child abusers which happened in this case," said Mr Boateng.

The loophole under the 1989 Children Act and the 1976 Adoption Act requires local authorities to check whether people who foster or adopt have criminal records, but gives them discretion to place children with convicted child abusers. That discretion will be removed.

"It beggars belief that any social worker would do that, but some obviously did. We must stop that ever happening again," Mr Boateng said. "What is so disturbing about this case is that they did know and knowing they went on to place these children with a convicted paedophile. That is wicked beyond belief," he added.

The Saint case will make it more likely that the Government will introduce new laws making it an offence for convicted paedophiles to obtain or try to work with children. Sir William Utting, chair of the National Institute of Social Work, is also conducting a review of legal safeguards to protect children living away from home, in foster care, children's homes and boarding schools.

Known abuser, page 8