The inquiry, inspired by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, will sit for 18 months before making recommendations that it hopes will shape anti-abuse policy in the 21st century.
To avoid becoming a mere talking shop for professionals, removed from the people it wishes to help, the nine-strong commission of inquiry includes Deidre Sanders, problem page editor of the Sun and Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel Four. Other members include Christine Walby, director of Staffordshire social services, and Sir Peter Newsam, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of London.
Lord Williams, who chaired the investigation into abuse in the Ty Mawr Community Home in 1991, emphasised the national commission, with a budget of pounds 150,000, wanted to hear from everyone with an opinion on abuse, including victims. While legal practice, including court treatment of child witnesses, will be investigated through written submissions and public hearings, Lord Williams insisted that getting convictions was not the only focus of the inquiry.
Along with a review of social policy, professional practice and parenting, the commission will consider basic questions like whether the level of child abuse is higher in Britain than in other European countries.
Chris Brown, NSPCC director, believes the commission's work is crucial. 'The way we treat our children is central to the health and future of any society.'
The commission's work will almost certainly be controversial. Yesterday, a commission member, Professor Stewart Asquith, of Glasgow University, said he was concerned that there had been 'a backlash against children'. But Richard Margrave, spokesman for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said his union would make a submission on behalf of the hundreds of teachers he claimed were wrongly accused of child abuse each year.
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