During day 4 of the IICSA hearing, the panel heard from the Strategic Director of Lambeth’s Children’s Services. She started her evidence with an apology.
“It's my absolute belief that children in care are entitled, as all children are, to a life where they can, grow up happy, in loving homes, free from any worry or fear of, or reality of, harm; where they can pursue their dreams and ambitions. It is clear to me that a very, very great number of children effectively had their childhoods stolen as a consequence of the abuse, the racist abuse, the emotional abuse, the sexual abuse, the physical abuse and the general neglect of them and their lives during a very long period of time. I am really, really sorry for what happened to those children. I recognise that Lambeth's betrayal of them is very profound and was very prolonged, and the failures are on many different levels. There was clearly an absolute failure to make sure that the conditions in which they were growing up enabled them to be safe and feel safe from harm. Instead, the council created and oversaw conditions in care where appalling and absolutely shocking and horrendous abuse was perpetrated. So that, rather than living in safe homes, safe environments, children were placed in toxic environments where they lived in constant fear, and they could not have the ordinary life that every child needs -- the right to a good education, the right to have contact with families, brothers and sisters. Even when they did speak out, and when concerns were expressed, they were disbelieved, their voices were silenced, there was distraction from what they were saying.
Then we failed also to give them the support and help that children and adults need to recover from the trauma of abuse, and that, too, I think, was a very profound dereliction of our responsibilities to you, to the survivors.
Finally, and very importantly, people in power and authority were just not vigilant. They weren't sufficiently vigilant about what was happening in children's homes, and they didn't take responsibility for making sure that, even when concerns and issues were highlighted, there was deep-seated change that was required.
I have been proud to be a social worker for 40 years, but I feel an enormous sense of shame about what happened in Lambeth to so very, very many children, and the learning for me, and for Lambeth, has been, and will be, hard, but I think it's really important that this inquiry provides the opportunity for the truth of what happened to be told and for some measure of justice.
So I really, truly and very deeply apologise to survivors and to families. What they experienced and endured and carried throughout their lives can't be unlived, and it may be that I can never fully appreciate the depth of the pain and what they endured. But I do want to say sorry. It's so palpably clear to me that what happened was that the council and others lost sight of a very large group of children, lost sight of what was happening in their lives, and that was at enormous, huge cost to those individuals and their families and friends, and for that I am really very, very sorry.”
The panel will hear further from the Strategic Director of Lambeth’s Children’s Services later in the Inquiry as to Lambeth’s failings regarding specific survivors.