Yesterday saw the publication of IICSA’s report into Lambeth Council. The purpose of the investigation was to examine the scale and nature of the sexual abuse experienced by children in the care of Lambeth Council over several decades since the 1960s, and the extent of any institutional failures to protect children in care from sexual abuse and exploitation.
The Report follows 19 days of evidence given in the summer of 2020. The Inquiry heard from Council officials, Police and several survivors. Whilst Lambeth Council now accepts that children in its care were sexually abused and that it failed them, the report finds that Lambeth Council was aware throughout the 1980s and 1990s of the nature of its failings and that the incidence of child sexual abuse was likely to be significantly higher than the reported numbers of complaints and convictions yet Lambeth did not make any meaningful apology until recently.
The Report states “it is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on children in the care of Lambeth Council over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings”. It goes on to say “far from being a sanctuary from abuse and neglect, Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish”.
The Report also criticises Lambeth Council’s foster care placements stating “nor did foster care routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. For many years foster carers were not adequately vetted by the Council and were not the subject of criminal record checks”.
The Inquiry also found that “Lambeth Council’s actions and decisions made it easy for the sexual abuse of children to occur in four principal ways:-
– it knowingly retained employees who posed a risk to children;
– It failed to investigate employees when they were suspect of child sexual abuse
– It exposed children to situations where they were at risk of sexual abuse, despite in several cases, having full knowledge of these risks; and
– It allowed adults suspected of sexual abuse to leave their employment and sexually offend elsewhere, without altering any known employers”.
The Inquiry also found that Shirley Oaks opened its doors to anyone from the community who expressed an interest in befriending children without any checks on their suitably. The Inquiry refers to this as “a potential licence for child abuse”.
The Abuse Team at Verisona Law have acted for over 135 survivors of abuse whilst in the care of Lambeth Council and therefore know only too well of the awful circumstances these people found themselves in when they were already incredibly vulnerable. These children were hoping for a better life where they hoped to find love and be cared for. Instead, many Lambeth Council staff in children’s social care demonstrated “a callous disregard” for the vulnerable children they were paid to look after.
Following its conclusions, the Report makes four recommendations.
1. Lambeth should develop and publish a comprehensive action plan, within six months, which details the actions that it will take in response to the issues raised in the report.
2. All Lambeth Council elected members should receive training on (i) safe guarding and (ii) corporate parenting. Training should be mandatory and repeated on a regular basis;
3. Lambeth Council should review the application of recruitment and vetting procedures for all current foster carers directly provided by Lambeth Council to ensure that the procedures have been followed correctly. In addition the Council should seek assurances from external agencies and other local authorities, in which children in the care of Lambeth Council have been placed, that recruitment and vetting procedures have been followed correctly for all foster carers and residential children’s homes staff working with children.
4. The Metropolitan Police Service should consider whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation into Lambeth’s actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding one child’s death.
Unfortunately the recommendations can do nothing to help those who have already suffered abuse whilst in care but hopefully they will go some way to ensuring that history does not repeat itself.
By June 2020 Lambeth Council was aware of 705 former residents of three children’s homes in this investigation who have made complaints of sexual abuse. Shirley Oaks was the subject of allegations against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. The true scale of the sexual abuse against children in Lambeth Council’s care will never be known, but it is certain to be significantly higher than is formally recorded.
With this in mind, if you believe you may be entitled to compensation as a result of time spent in a Lambeth Children’s home, please get in touch with one of our dedicated team for advice relating to making an application under the redress scheme. The Lambeth Redress Scheme comes to an end in January 2022, after which time no further applications will be considered by Lambeth.