Children betrayed by the professionals

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The Independent Online
Allegations of abuse in homes contain the sad irony: the children were put there because it was thought they would be safer, writes Glenda Cooper. As the mother of "Robert", who went to Meadowdale, said: "I handed him over to these 'professionals' and this is how I've been repaid."

The Cleveland inquiry in 1987 identified serious faults in the system by which children were taken into care. Four years later "pindown" - where children in the care of Staffordshire County Council were kept in isolation for days as a punishment for unruly behaviour - catapulted care in residential homes into prominence.

Under pindown, children were left in their nightclothes, not allowed to speak to anyone, had to knock on the door to go to the lavatory and had no books or entertainment. Some tried to kill themselves.

But Staffordshire was not the only scandal. In the 1980s, at the Kincora boys' home in Northern Ireland, three people, including the house father, were convicted of sexual offences.

Frank Beck was convicted in 1991 of 17 charges of sexual and physical abuse of boys and girls in Leicestershire children's homes. He died in prison in June 1994.

Two damning independent reports into the case were published in February 1993. One, for the Police Complaints Authority, accused officers of "incompetence, negligence and prejudice" in dealing with Beck and blamed them for tending to disbelieve children.

The other report into the county's social services department judged managers "inadequate, naive and out of their depth". In 1992, a police inquiry into allegations of abuse in children's homes in North Wales became the biggest investigation ever mounted.

It was estimated there were more than 200 allegations of abuse revolving around two council-run children's homes; Bryn Estyn, in Wrexham, Clywd, and Ty'r Felin, in Bangor, Gwynedd.

Altogether 46 homes were under investigation in Clywd and 17 in Gwynedd. Peter Howarth, deputy principal of Bryn Estyn between 1976 and 1984 was jailed for 10 years for indecency with children. Two other men received jail sentences after being found guilty of sexual assaults and two others were given conditional discharges.

Less than six months ago, a report said Islington Council's "politically correct" equal opportunities policy led to children being left at risk from suspected child abusers.

The council was accused of operating a "pro-active" anti-discrimination policy of recruiting staff without conducting checks on their background, thus failing to protect children from unsuitable staff.