Children in care `denied basic rights'

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The Independent Online

Children in residential care have been denied "basic human rights" and have had their allegations of abuse dismissed, according to a leading children's charity. A report, So Who Are We Meant To Trust Now? - Responding to Abuse in Care, for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, contains detailed case histories of residents' experiences of living in care ranging from sexual, physical and emotional abuse to bullying both by staff and fellow residents.

The young people talk about staff ganging up on them, being denied basic rights such as privacy, being discriminated against unfairly and feelings of abuse by the care system itself.

Children reported that education was withdrawn as a form of punishment, male staff watched young women bathe and use the lavatory. Sanitary protection was also withdrawn as punishment and young women's periods were checked and logged in a "period book".

Children also reported having to wear non-identified communal clothing or having to work up enough good behaviour "points" before they could wear their own clothes. They were not told their rights or allowed to sit in on meetings to discuss their welfare. When they made complaints they often felt they were excluded from the investigation procedure.

Vicky, who was beaten up, shown pornographic material and given alcohol to make her sleep, said that the investigation into her complaints was minimal. "My case was investigated by a male social services manager who was a friend of the workers who had abused me. I had an `interview' with the manager which amounted to no more than a chat in the grounds of the home. He never thought that it was a serious matter or that I needed some privacy."

Marie, who was sexually and physically abused by workers at her home, agreed. She said: "I got no information or explanation about the investigation... The interviews were difficult. I had to pass on sensitive information to people I didn't really trust. Nobody ever said: `I believe you're telling the truth'."

The NSPCC's key recommendations include: providing more information and consulting with young people when in care, ensuring privacy, improving the investigation procedure, developing independent support and setting up a befriending system. It is also calling for staff who are under investigation to be suspended.

Carol Dey, manager of NSPCC child protection team and organiser of the research said: "Young people need to be listened to. They need to be believed. And they need the support of the care system if they find themselves in this situations rather than being treated as the guilty ones."