Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Stolen Childhoods

BBC Jersey has an excellent report detailing the victims compensation scheme and why it is necessary. As Graham Power, former Jersey chief of police, says (in an brief filmed insert) it was "institutionalised abuse of small and vulnerable children", and the States had responsibility for their care. There's also a link to another report where one of the victims tells how she had suffered while in care. Nothing can bring back childhoods that have been stolen by abuse, but at least this shows that the States cares, and that apology is not just empty words.

To be eligible under the historical abuse redress scheme people will have to have been resident in a Jersey care home between 9 May 1945 and 31 December 1994 and suffered 'sexual or unlawful physical abuse'

There are several aspects of the scheme, however, which I find cause a degree of concern. One is the statement by Advocate Lacy reported in the JEP (30.03.2012) that
"when consideration was being given to claims of historical abuse by staff in care homes so many years ago, the cases would be judged on the relevant standards of conduct which operated at the time, and not today."

This seems, on the face of it, to be a commonsense approach except for one thing.

It is clear that there was often not any codified relevant standard of conduct, so that these have to be surmised. This was noted in Ireland by the excellent report "Towards Redress and Recovery - Report to the Minister for Education and Science by the Compensation Advisory Team"(2001). This noted:

A difficult question arises as to the extent to which failure to care or other acts or omissions are to be assessed by reference to standards prevailing at the time when they occurred. In some instances the conduct or neglect will be so clear as to lead to an obvious answer; but we anticipate that there will be other instances where difficult issues arise by reference to standards prevailing at the time, including the living conditions when poverty was common, and norms of behaviour (including attitudes to corporal punishment). (1)

Clearly in a time when caning was permitted in schools, it might be difficult to determine how far corporal punishment constituted abuse. But one fact should also be taken into account, which the Irish report noted, which is equally significant. Someone caned in school who has a home to return to has, to some extent, a safe haven, away from the perpetrator. For children in care, the perpetrator and the carer were the same person, so that there was no safe haven. As the Irish report notes:

Children who are placed in care are an already vulnerable group. The reason for, or indeed the method of, placement may in itself have been traumatic. In many cases there was no way out for the child, little or no contact with family or siblings and little contact with the world outside the institution. When abuse takes place in such circumstances, the child's sense of powerlessness and helplessness is magnified. No child expects to be placed in the care of adults and abused, whatever the reasons for their placement. (1)

So that the child subjected to the same kind of physical discipline in a care home as one subjected to it at school, while it may seem to be the same standard of conduct, is not so, because of the circumstances in which it takes place.

The Jersey scheme seems also deficient in how the kinds of abuse are codified, and peculiar in the scale in which it is given.

Physical and/or sexual abuse: Up to £10,000
Aggravated physical and/or sexual abuse: £10,000-£20,000
Rape and/or prolonged aggravated physical and/or sexual abuse: standard bracket: £15,000-£35,000
Rape and/or prolonged aggravated physical: and/or sexual abuse: upper bracket: £25,000-£60,000

The Irish scheme, while more generous, also has redress bands that are uniform. It determines the scale of abuse on a points system, and makes the awards as follows:

Point Scheme: Compensation
<25 Up to €50,000
25-39 €50,000 – €100,000
40-54 €100,000 – €150,000
55-69 €150,000 - €200,000
>70 €200,000 - €300,000

Except for the final stage, each increment is the same here. In the Jersey situation, we seem to have something more like a logarithmic scale, where the bands jump up significantly the higher the band. Why is this so? No explanation is given.

Why I point this out is because the Jersey scheme says it is based on "comparative schemes". Clearly, it does not bear comparison with the Irish one! There is no supplementary paper that I could discover that sets out the reasoning of those setting out the scales, or the type of abuse, explaining how they arrived at those figures. We have to take it on trust that they are "comparable" to other jurisdictions, but it would be useful, I think, to have some examples so that we can see how that was arrived at, rather than it just being blandly stated. It is like a mathematic sum where we are given the answer, but the working out is hidden.

The Irish method of assessment - the point scale - which looked at different types of abuse, and their consequence when assessing the claims. It was aware that it might not just be sexual abuse which could have had a deeply traumatic impact on a vulnerable child.

We envisage that the Redress Board will first consider the severity of the abuse suffered by the individual applicant and make an appropriate award on a scale of 1-25, with 25 representing the most severe form of abuse. The Board will then, by reference to the medical evidence, assess on a scale of 1-30 the severity of the physical and/or psychiatric illness suffered by the applicant as a result of the abuse. It will next perform the same task with regard to what we have called the "psychosocial sequelae" of the abuse, and finally, on a scale of 1-15, assess the loss of opportunity suffered by the applicant. (1)

As well as sexual abuse, they also have this to say on physical abuse and neglect:

Physical abuse is defined in "Children First" as "any form of non-accidental injury or injury which results from wilful or neglectful failure to protect a child". In general, the more severe the physical abuse the more harmful its psychological effects on the victim.

Neglect is defined in "Children First" in terms of "omission, where a child suffers significant harm or impairment of development by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, intellectual stimulation, supervision and safety, attachment to and affection from adults, medical care." In addition, "harm" is defined as "the ill-treatment of the health or development of a child". Whether it is "significant" is determined "by his/her health and development as compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a child of similar age". This document also reminds us that neglect can become evident in a variety of ways over a period of time rather than at one specific point.

Emotion Abuse or neglect doesn't appear to feature at all on the Jersey scale, and yet its impact can be profound.

Emotional Abuse: Depersonalisation e.g. through family ties being severed without justification or through deprivation of affection. General climate of fear and apprehension. Stigmatisation by staff, e.g. through repeated racist remarks or hurtful references to parents

Neglect: Severe malnutrition; failure to protect child against abusive placements; inadequate guarding against dangerous equipment in work-place. Failure to provide legally prescribed minimum of school instruction; lack of appropriate vocational training and training in life skills. Inadequate clothing, bedding or heating.

Although I have not been in care, I still have vivid memories of a particular instance of emotional abuse and threats. I remember being in the General Hospital for my tonsils out when around seven or eight. Because there was a risk in my case of a clot, and a hemorrhage - that actually happened to Lloyd George when his throat suddenly began to bleed profusely after an operation for tonsillitis - and my throat was dry and raw. As a result, I didn't feel like eating some of the rather dry hospital food, as it irritated my throat. I was taken by a nurse into a room, shown a segment of rubber tubing attached to a funnel, and warned that if I didn't eat, the tube would be placed down my throat and I would be force fed. Slowly, I managed to eat a few mouthfuls, while the nurse stood over me, funnel and tubing in hand.

I went home, and the nurse in question was far removed from my everyday life - although my mother had words to say to her when i left the hospital. But it did leave me with a certain antipathy to hospitals, as places where that kind of behaviour could take place, and I still don't like them.

Now imagine a child in care subject to the same kind of abuse, perhaps even more severe, what the Irish report calls "a general climate of fear and apprehension". There may only be bullying, and no physical abuse, just the threat of it, hovering over the child. That is something the Irish report terms "emotional abuse", and the Jersey scheme does not seem to consider; it has a focus purely on physical abuse. But a decade of growing up in a regime of fear, verbal abuse, threats, will certainly leave a mark.

I hope that commonsense will really prevail, and those assessing claims will also consider emotional abuse and neglect, and not just the kind of violence which can leave a mark. It is a matter which should perhaps be raised in the States.

(1) http://www.rirb.ie/documents/cac_report2002.pdf


Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret said...


What an excellent and thoughtful posting.


Anonymous said...

In the Jersey situation, we seem to have something more like a logarithmic scale, where the bands jump up significantly the higher the band. Why is this so?

You might argue that it's simply to do with your earlier question.

You might argue that while there has never been a time when rape and aggravated sexual assault have been acceptable, certain behaviours which are now not acceptable, were at one time on the margins of being acceptable. That is not unexpected: Jersey's establishment cannot deny that there was serious abuse, but will continue to portray the obviously bad cases as outliers and the general regime as unpleasant but within tolerance of "normal".

I don't subscribe to that way of looking at things.

There was a rather interesting article in, of all places, the Daily Mail on Friday last, about a head teacher who'd found various artefacts in his primary school's basement. This was one of them. It dates to before April 1974 (WRCC was abolished at that point), and it seems to indicate that the boundaries were set a great deal tighter than is generally thought. But I do not believe that a local authority would have one culture for its schools and a different one altogether for its residential homes.

TonyTheProf said...