Abuse inquiry records have `gone missing'

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THE FINDINGS of nine public inquiries into claims of serious child abuse have gone missing, researchers have found.

The astonishing revelation goes back to inquiries carried out as long ago as 1973. Since then 70 reports have been published, but researchers say they were unable to trace the findings of nine because no records are kept.

All the inquiries were set up, like the North Wales abuse tribunal which completed its report last week, to investigate what went wrong after cases of serious abuse, in some cases involving the death of a child.

A team from Liverpool University and John Moore's University, also in Liverpool, who tried to trace all the reports says that no central record is kept of how many there have been, what the cases involved, or what their recommendations for changes were.

The results of the Liverpool research will fuel claims that little is being gleaned from the inquiries. Almost half of the 70 inquiries came up with the same recommendations that there should be better training and supervision of care staff, and that there should be better inter-agency co-operation.

The North Wales' tribunal is expected to include similar advice among its recommendations which are now expected to be published in January.

The report on the Liverpool research says, "Sixty one of the 70 inquiries were examined in detail. Nine of them, most of which were produced more than a decade ago, proved to be inaccessible.

"The list of inquiries is still not definitive and in all likelihood there may be others in existence that have not been identified. In addition to the 70 inquiries, a further eight were reported by various sources to be in existence which at the time of the research had not reported.

"Our research was not helped by the fact that there seems to be no central register of such inquiries kept with which to establish a common record."

It went on: "The fact that there is no national collection of such reports readily available to the public and indeed the professional community for information and educational purposes is both surprising and a cause for concern in the light of the extent of public anxiety about child abuse.''

The report strongly urges that a national database be set up to hold the inquiry data to help prevent abuse and improve practice.

One of the authors, Brian Corby, said yesterday: "We simply could not get hold of the nine although they are supposed to be in the public domain.

"For some we could find not trace, others were out of print, and others built into council minutes.

"No doubt there are original copies somewhere, but these reports should be very readily accessible.

"One would have expected that these records could be easily accessible by professionals looking for guidance and that there was a national register.

"We put in a very big effort into this but still could not get nine of them.''

One possible reason why some may be gathering dust is that among some social workers there has been a culture of distrust of public inquires.

The inquiries are often seen by practitioners as mere vehicles for social worker bashing, rather than as constructive ways for achieving improvements to services.