WATERHOUSE:
LOST IN CARE
 
Introducing a new section  

 

The Waterhouse Report is of such importance that a section of children.uk is being devoted entirely to it. The incidents it covers go back over the last two decades. The inquiry has been massive, costing £13.5 million. About 650 children were found to have been abused. Of these 12 are said to have committed suicide. 25 childcare workers have received prison sentences for their roles in abusing children physically and sexually. The sheer scale and appalling nature of their offences makes this Report one of the landmarks in the history of British welfare which will still be quoted in a hundred years time.

The mark made by the Waterhouse Report and the offending it describes will be indelible, but it is in the nature of today's media that a crisis in the peace process in Northern Ireland pushed the publication of the Report into second place on the news on 15th February, and within two days, the only traces of the story will be found in the correspondence pages, like the tail of a comet that has shone briefly and disappeared.

For those of us who are concerned to learn from Waterhouse, to make sure that such events never happen again and who want to see first-rate services for children and young people, how do we make sure that real lessons are learnt, that real action is taken, and that the media and politicians do not simply move on to the next issue? How do we use this opportunity positively?

Too often, British childcare policy has followed scandals, and there is always the danger that we concentrate on preventing problems, rather than on developing good practice. This approach carries real risks. Trying to avoid problems can mean that workers become too cautious, do not take creative risks in answering children's problems or fail to form close effective relationships with them. We need positive outcomes, with good practice in mind.

This section of children.uk will be open for contributions from readers, but will include articles and commentaries on the Report. It will not appear all at once, but - one of the advantages of a webmag - it will be built up as contributions arrive. So, if this matter is of concern to you, keep watching, and let everyone know what you think as well.

The Editor

E-mail your contributions to: waterhouse@children.uk.co


The Main Recommendations

The Waterhouse Report, Lost in Care, contains 72 recommendations. These are the main ones :

  • An Independent Children's Commissioner for Wales should be appointed to ensure respect for children's rights and protection for whistleblowers. The Commissioner should report to the Welsh Assembly.
  • Every social services authority should appoint a Children's Complaints Officer, who will see any child who complains; consult with managers on how to react; and ensure that children can complain to an independent outside organisation if they wish.
  • Every local authority should establish clear whistle-blowing procedures.
  • Failure by staff to report suspected abuse of a child by anyone else should become a disciplinary offence.
  • For their entire time in care, and for a period afterwards, every child should be given an individual social worker, who must visit them every eight weeks.
  • When children abscond from children's homes, police should ask them why they have run away and should not automatically return them.
  • There should be a national review of the pay, status and career development of residential childcare staff and field social workers to ensure sufficient candidates of an appropriate calibre.
  • Social services departments should be vigilant when recruiting staff and foster-parents.
  • An independent regulatory agency should be established for children's services in Wales.
  • The Law Commission should consider the legal and insurance problems faced by councils publishing reports into child abuse.
    The Times 16th February 2000


The Report in Detail

For the full conclusions of the Report and further information and comment, see the Guardian network at

www.newsunlimited.co.uk/waterhouse
 



What the Papers Said

Most of the papers made the Waterhouse Report a major item of news on the front page, as well as giving fuller details inside and offering editorial views in a leading article. Here is a selection of the main papers.

The Daily Mail
The front page was headed "BETRAYAL", and a nice family photograph was bylined "These four brothers were horrifically abused in care. Two were to die in torment. Yesterday an inquiry concluded that, in all, 650 children - appallingly let down by social workers - were victims of Britain's worst-ever paedophile scandal … and that 40 of the monsters are still at large."

The paper gave over a further five pages of text to the story.

First, there was a double spread entitled "40 monsters who must be found", with smaller sections on Sir Robert Waterhouse, the social services, the police and the recommendations. Unlike other papers, a story was also made of the influence of the Chester branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

The second double spread focused on those who had been abused, with the headings "A life sentence for the victims", "My tormented childhood by the boy known as Number 28", "Unimaginable horrors that were just too much to bear" and "In my dreams , I hear the screams". The text spoke in detail of the abuse, and there were photos of the victims, some of whom had since committed suicide.

The last page was headed "Naming names, the evil men at the centre of the web of abuse" with a brief account of Alison Taylor's role as whistleblower.

The main editorial also focused on the Waterhouse Report. "For two decades, predatory paedophiles… got away with it because social workers and local politicians were too complacent and incompetent to notice what was going on. … Nobody listened. The children's stories were dismissed…" The Mail concluded that only time would tell whether Waterhouse's 72 recommendations would help to protect the vulnerable children in care. "But how many times have we been here before?"

Altogether a very thorough piece of reporting, with plenty of detail.

The Daily Star
Under the headline 650 KIDS ABUSED IN CARE HOME SCANDAL the Daily Star carried a news story on page 8. Complete with pictures, the article was as long as other news items in the paper, such as that on the previous page headed GIRL WORE STOCKINGS FOR SEX WITH HER R.E. TUTOR. There was no mention of the Report on the front page at all, and the Star does not seem to be given to offering editorial comment. 

All in all, the Star's coverage offered an interesting comment on the editor's view of the readership's level of interest in such matters.

The Daily Telegraph
Across the top of its front page, the Telegraph ran a story headed "Child abuse inquiry reveals systematic state failure". The headline story was backed by a full double-spread covering all the main angles, but in particular majoring on an article about the whistle-blower, Alison Taylor, headed "I had the proof but they wouldn't listen."

The Telegraph's leader (the third, after ones about Mugabe and Sinn Fein) took an individual line in three respects. First it attacked local authority residential care : "Fortunately, the fashion for consigning children in care to council-run homes does, finally, appear to be waning, with many more now looked after by foster-parents." This statement is not only sweeping, but failed to notice the risk of abuse in foster care as well as residential care. Secondly, it stated that "what this sorry affair shows, yet again, is that local authorities are not, in general, good at looking after the needs of children". 
The Report did nothing of the sort; it certainly castigated two local authorities, but it was not a general report about the comparative effectiveness of local authority and independently-run homes or about the system nation-wide. Thirdly, it said that the Report showed that teenage children do need protection from older sexual predators, and linked it with the debate on the age of homosexual consent a week earlier in Parliament. 

In summary, the leader missed an opportunity to support the Report's recommendations about key issues through diversions onto hobby-horses.

The Express
Headed "LOST IN CARE", the front page of the Express was one of the most dramatic, with a picture of Darren Laverty, one of the victims, as a child, and a supporting bold statement that "This little boy and hundreds like him were cruelly abused in children's homes over nearly two decades. Yesterday a damning report laid bare the full shocking extent of crimes against the most vulnerable members of our society."

The front page report was carried over onto two clearly laid-out double spreads The first was entitled "A betrayal of the most vulnerable" and majored on four case studies of victims of abuse and a major piece on Alison Taylor, the whistleblower. In a balanced and forceful piece, she is quoted as saying "Child abuse is not recognised as being simply part of the spectrum of human behaviour and therefore a constant and ever-present threat". The report also quoted the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers which called for another 80 public inquiries, to match the current police investigations into abuse.

The second double spread, headed "Exploitation on a wholesale scale" covered the abusers, the history of events and the recommendations.

Further coverage included a long leader - the only one that day, an article by Christian Wolmar on "The culture of apathy that ruined so many lives", and a cartoon of three staring teddies, seeing, hearing and speaking no evil.

Christian Wolmar is a Joseph Rowntree Foundation journalism fellow, writing a book on abuse in children's homes, and his article covered the other recent cases in Staffordshire, Cleveland, Orkney, Ayrshire and Leicestershire.

The editorial was the hardest-hitting of the national papers, pointing out that after all the abuse and the cover-ups, the Inquiry, despite its £13 million costs and 500,000 word Report, failed to identify the names of those responsible, other than those convicted. It described this as "a betrayal of the high hopes that the full story would be told and the guilty parties identified".

All in all, the Express reporting and commentary was very thorough, and is to be commended to anyone wanting to get the full facts in a single paper.

The Financial Times
Of the serious papers, the FT paid less attention to Waterhouse than any of the others. In common with the Daily Star, it made no mention on the front page, and carried the story on page 4, under the heading "Abuse scandal sparks care shake-up". Understandably for the FT, there was a subheading "Insurers expected to settle claims of more than 100 victims", reporting that claims might amount to £1.5 million and pointing out that the insurance company involved, Zurich Municipal, was exonerated from the allegation of attempting to pressurise Clwyd County Council not to publish the findings of earlier reports. The FT was the only broadsheet which carried no editorial on the subject, so presumably all those city types who rely on it to be able to comment have no opinion. 

The possible take-over of Courtaulds, the Zimbabwe referendum and the possibility of China joining the G8 were all more important.

The Guardian
Guardian covered the story very thoroughly, both in the paper and on its website, mentioned above. First, there was a brief front page story, entitled "Hunt for 24 care workers in child abuse scandal", which outlined the contents of the Report.

Next there was a double spread, including photographs. The key areas covered were the children's homes, headed "Refuges that turned into purgatory", the impact on the victims, with the headings "Haunted mother's legacy of fear and loathing", "Recalling life in the Colditz of care", and "I just hope this will protect future generations in care". A useful section gave questions and answers about the Report.

Further on, there was an article by Christian Wolmar, a journalism research fellow, who pointed out that until twenty years ago, nearly all residential childcare workers were women, and that by contrast with the pattern of child abuse in the wider community, which consists mainly of men abusing girls, the pattern in residential care is primarily of men abusing boys. He argued against any knee-jerk reaction, and suggested that a sober analysis was needed of residential child care, taking account of other factors, such as poor educational achievements.

The Guardian devoted its first leader to the Report and commented at length. The article summarises the report, noting that "The system was devoid of leadership, management or planning. No part of it escapes censure - social services, councillors, police or the Welsh Office." It notes the lack of impact of the earlier reports and comments that Waterhouse is exceptionally weak in defending the decision not to publish the Jillings Report. "He's no champion of the public right to know" said the leader, but then "Waterhouse has cleared the air." Finally, there are comments on the cost of the Inquiry against the poor investment in better services, on the improvements which the Government has in hand and on Alison Taylor's comment that child abuse is not going to disappear.

The Independent
The front page story is slightly off-beat, focusing on the human impact of the abuse without reporting directly on the publication of the Report. Next to a picture of a man sitting on a stump by the sea, there is the headline "He will never forgive. Or forget. For Zak, a victim of our worst child-abuse scandal, sorry is not enough". The item mentions the Report in the context of the effects of abuse on Zak.

On the next two pages, the Report is covered in detail. With pictures of the Inquiry team, Alison Taylor and the homes where the abuse happened, the text deals with the report's contents, Alison Taylor's role, the impact on Darren Laverty, one of the victims, and the views of child protection organisations.

The Independent devoted its first leader to the Report, recording the cove-up and the process by which the Inquiry was established, giving itself a pat on the back for publishing the findings of an earlier report which led William Hague to set up the Waterhouse Inquiry. The leader spoke of the ignorance of senior managers, with paedophiles operating unpunished, and concluded "But this is not just a problem for Wales. Across Britain, vulnerable children are in danger. Those dangers need to be confronted head on."

The Mirror
The Mirror went to town on the story. Under a banner headline "DAMNED" there was a picture of Darren Laverty, one of the victims, and subheads "*Systematic sex assaults over 20yrs * 650 victims who will never forget * Fears it could be tip of the iceberg", and a picture of Lost in Care. This was followed by the full story on pages 4 and 5 with the viewpoints of victims, a piece about the whistle-blower (unfortunately headed "The informer"), details of the abusers and appropriate pictures. This was followed up by a long article on page 6 by Brian Reade, spelling out graphically the stories of Steve Messham, one of the victims. There is an editorial on the same page, arguing that the catalogue of abuse was hard to understand until one realised that the children had been "brushed aside" by society, and that it must never happen again. 

The reporting throughout appeared to be thorough, accurate and balanced, a good example of direct tabloid writing.

The Sun
The Sun's front page was halved between a story about Gazza and the banner headline "I NAILED CHILD SEX PERVERTS", with the subheading, "Brave Alison exposed abuse scandal". After a few further words on the front page, there is a double spread inside under the title "THE LOST CHILDREN SUFFERED 20 YEARS OF ABUSE". The story of Alison Taylor, the whistleblower continues, two thirds of a page is given to four abusers and Steve Messham's story as a victim is told under the heading "MONSTERS STOLE MY CHILDHOOD".

The message of the editorial is simple and clear. Headed "Lone voice" it reports that only Alison Taylor spoke out and was sacked. It concludes "The least we can do for the victims is hunt these fiends down and bring them to justice. Then throw away the key."

The Times
A modest front page story, headed "youngsters in care still at risk, says abuse report", was followed inside the paper by a thorough two-page spread covering all the main points. Half a page was given over to Alison Taylor, the whistle-blower, and coverage was given to Steve Messham (one of the victims of abuse), Sir Ronald Waterhouse ("Investigator fitted the bill") and a piece quoting the Report about the absence of a conspiracy (which interestingly pictured a Private Eye report from 1996 entitled "Suffer the Little Children").

The Times was the only paper to give a full account of the parliamentary debate, mainly referring to the announcement of the Report's publication in the Commons, but also mentioning the Lords.

The Times made the Report the subject of its main leader, headed "Avoidable abuse" and subheaded "Waterhouse's report must not join its predecessors on the shelf." The leader underlined the main messages of the Report, and emphasised that there were still weaknesses in the system. Proper qualifications were needed and the recommended pay review needed to be "on the top of Alan Milburn's in-tray". Children's commissioners and complaints officers were welcomed for urgent action, as "a signal that [the children's] voices will never again be disregarded in such a casual fashion".

The Yorkshire Post
As a regional paper, the Yorkshire Post understandably limited news coverage to a modest article on an inside page covering the main points in outline, with a graphic picture of Steve Messham, one of the victims, tearing up a placard. This is followed by a whole-page article by Sheena Hastings, headed "Suffering in silence", and covering the views of representatives of the NSPCC and the Children's Society in the area , among others, and descriptions of the measures being taken to improve standards in children's homes where, in the words of Roger Thompson "There have been seismic shifts in the way homes are run".

The leader moved from horror at the abuse to a condemnation of residential care, and thence to a call for more adoption and a slating of social workers who could halt the tortuous procedures at any time through subjective judgements about the weight of prospective adopters. 

It is a pity that such an important subject as the Waterhouse Report can be diverted into such trivia.

Issues

The Waterhouse Report throws up a lot of issues, which will need to be debated for some time to come. Here is the opportunity for readers to contribute ideas and views.

* The Financial Cost

The Waterhouse Report cost £13.5 million to produce, and this figure presumably does not include the cost of the six previous inquiries. Nor will it cover the money spent on reporters and observers attending the inquiry, civil servant time spent on preparing reactions, and so on. A further amount of £1.5 million is anticipated as the cost of insurance claims. Then there are all the costs of the court cases against the offenders, of keeping them in prison and of their likely reduced productivity on being discharged. The economic spin-offs of events such as this are extensive.

Proper investment in the training and management of the services in the first place could have saved a lot of money, as well as preventing the suffering of the 650 victims.

** Listening to Survivors

With such a large group of people who were victims of abuse in the homes in North Wales, there is an unprecedented opportunity to learn from people who have been through the hell of having no-one who will listen and take complaints seriously. The Waterhouse recommendations for a Children's Commissioner for Wales and for Complaints Officers in every authority are excellent, and overdue, but is there more we can learn? What would have made the difference as far as the victims were concerned? What more can we do now to make amends? - we can't undo the past, but there may be ways in which the experience can be used positively, at least to prevent its recurrence.

*** Did Waterhouse get it Right?

One of the tests of a Report which deals with conflicting views is to gauge the complaints about its fairness.

In the case of the Waterhouse Report, the Bryn Estyn staff support group complained about "trial by ambush" alleging that the Report "made a mockery of the British judiciary's reputation for fair play. … The Treasury team appeared to have no interest in presenting the evidence in a fair and balanced manner. Instead, complainants' evidence was led sympathetically (even when such evidence was clearly fanciful) while alleged abusers were often subjected to hostile … cross-examination."

On the other side, it was alleged that former victims had been grilled when giving evidence, while the abusers had not been asked obvious questions and had been let off lightly.

On balance, these conflicting observations suggest that the Report must have been taking a middle line. However, it is possible to have a bad report which satisfies no-one. The real test will be the conclusions reached by the time the Report has been read thoroughly, digested and talked about. It will have been successful if the general conclusion is that it got the measure of the abuse, described and analysed it well, and came up with helpful and workable conclusions.

**** Alison Taylor

The only person to come out of the whole saga with a really positive image is Alison Taylor, who blew the whistle, not only once but time and again. She went to the top to make her points. She gathered information systematically. She sacrificed her career when the authorities disliked what she was saying.

Understandably, her story has been seized upon in one newspaper after another, each with lengthy interviews or quotations. This is a subject which has the type of scandal on which tabloid journalism can thrive, but in all the papers which quote her, Alison offered balanced, insightful remarks, making telling points in a straightforward way and providing factual information.

She deserves every credit.