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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 16:26 GMT


Clampdown on children's home abusers

Better training for staff in children's homes will be expected

The government has announced a £375m grant to pay for improved services to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people in care.

BBC Social Affairs Correspondent Alison Holt reports on the sweeping changes announced to protect children
The new Children's Service's Grant was among a package of measures announced by Health Secretary Frank Dobson to MPs to offer more protection to youngsters in foster and children's homes, boarding schools and other institutions.

Mr Dobson's plans include better training for staff, and more safeguards to prevent abusers from working with young people.

They follow an official report that claimed abusers were exploiting "gaping" holes in the system.

Mr Dobson said: "We owe it to all the children in care to root out the wrong doers."

In a moving address to the Commons, he asked MPs to remember what it was like being a teenager and to imagine not having basic family provisions of meals, parental care and a family home.

The government will introduce a new criminal records agency to allow police to liase with social services and the department of health.

The law will also be changed so councils take responsibility for children up until the age of 18, as opposed to the age of 16 at present, and to try and keep in touch with them afterwards.

Mr Dobson also announced more provision for whistle-blowing by children care, increase the number of foster parents and monitor the welfare of children in homes and hospitals.

Accusations upheld

BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson: Government is ready to act
Mr Dobson's plans were unveiled on the same day as a report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which claims youngsters in children's homes still suffer serious physical and sexual abuse.

The charity says it carries out more than one investigation a month into allegations made by children.

The report concludes in the majority of cases, children's accusations are upheld.

[ image: Most accusations were made by youngsters aged from 14 to 15]
Most accusations were made by youngsters aged from 14 to 15
These include rape, being kicked, thrown against walls and being made the subject of pornographic pictures.

The organisation said 67 children made 76 allegations of abuse against 50 members of staff between 1994-96.

Just over half the cases involved children aged 14 to 15. A total of 26 of those cases happened recently.

NSPCC officials said only three cases were thought to be pure invention, and accusations were not upheld in six cases.

The charity's director of children's services, Mike Taylor, said: "A series of scandals brought home the scale of abuse that took place in children's homes in the 1970s and 80s."

"But we know that such abuse is not a thing of the past."

The report, Investigating Institutional Abuse of Children, is published on Thursday.

It highlights weaknesses within children's homes which lead to abuse.

Poor management control, low levels of staff supervision and support, poor communication and low morale all contribute to abuse, it says.

Abusers escape vetting

The Utting report, on which the government's new plan of action is based, was commissioned in 1996 to look into the care of children living away from their family home.

Sir William Utting, a former chief inspector of social services, published his report People Like Us last November, in which he said serial child abusers were escaping vetting procedures and causing misery for children in local authority care.

Although the report found that abuse on a large scale was "unlikely", it said there was no room for complacency.

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