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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

2.4 The National Children’s Home

1. The National Children’s Home (NCH), now called Action for Children (AfC), was founded in 1869 to provide shelter and care for homeless children in London. Their main work progressed from providing children’s homes to placing children in foster care and adoption, and they now deliver a broad range of services for children, young people and families. NCH began migrating children to Canada from 1873. The Inquiry heard evidence from Deana Neilson, Head of Safeguarding at AfC.

2.4.1 What was the NCH’s role in child migration?

2. The NCH migrated around 3,500 children to Canada from 1873-1931,[1] and 37 to Australia from 1937-1939.[2] Post-War, the NCH migrated 90 children to Australia from 1950-1951 (and two children later joined their siblings).[3] The NCH’s rationale for migration was that Australia was felt to be a land of better opportunities and weather for children; it was envisaged that the central importance of religion would be emphasised; and that a stable family-like environment would be provided. The welfare of the child was noted to be of paramount importance. The NCH’s child migration programme was run by its General and Emigration Committees. After selection, children were sent to the NCH home in Alverstoke, Hampshire to prepare them for migration.[4]

3. Post-War, the NCH sent children to:

a. Northcote Farm School, Victoria;

b. Magill Home, South Australia;

c. Dalmar, NSW;

d. Methodist Home for Girls, Perth;

e. Methodist Peace Memorial Home (aka “Cheltenham”), Victoria; and

f. Barnardo’s Farm Training School, Picton, NSW.[5]

4. During Part 1 we heard allegations of sexual abuse from one witness who had been migrated by the NCH (CM-A19).[6] In addition the NCH has been informed of several such allegations which we describe below.

2.4.2 What did the NCH know about alleged sexual abuse of its child migrants?

5. We accept Ms Neilson’s evidence that the NCH had no actual knowledge of allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of child migrants during the migration period.[7] 

NCH Sisters travelled with the child migrants, and stayed with them for some time, and so the NCH was probably better placed than many if not all of the other migrating organisations to identify any sexual abuse. 

2.4.3 Did the NCH take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from sexual abuse?

Selection

6. The NCH repeatedly committed itself to the careful selection of children and said that only those who would benefit would be migrated. It took a range of approaches to obtaining consent, including explaining to parents about the distance and permanence of migration, and indicating that no child would be sent without consent and that any child who did not settle would be brought back. However, in 1953, the Moss report noted that the selection of children had been done badly. Ms Neilson accepted that some parents’ consent was not fully informed and that some children who asked to come back were not in fact returned.[8]

The NCH’s expectations

7. In 1948, the NCH set out ‘7 principles’ for migration, based on its past experience in Canada[9] and the expected Home Office regulations, including:

a. the need for the same adults to remain with the child as much as possible as surrogate parents;

b. accommodating children in small cottages; and

c. the establishment of special staff training courses.[10]

8. The NCH was clearly also cognisant of, and sought to comply with, the Home Office’s expectations as set out in its 1949 guide for voluntary childcare societies, in respect of:

a. the “continuing responsibility of the parent society”;

b. the use of trained social workers in selection;

c. systematic training for childcare workers “as established in this country” and;

d. the use of liaison officers.[11] 

9. The agreement the NCH reached about how migration would operate was apparently based on its 7 principles.[12] Professors Constantine and Lynch considered that the NCH’s 7 principles showed expectations of a very rigorous system of care, which was a far more ambitious scheme than those attempted by other agencies, and may have been unrealistically high for Australia immediately post-War.[13] In 1949, the NCH’s Mr Litten also proposed the establishment of dedicated training centres in Australia for the staff who would be caring for child migrants.[14]

The reality for NCH child migrants

10. Uniquely among post-War sending institutions, in 1950 the NCH sent selected Sisters (who had been trained and had worked with children in the UK) to accompany parties of children to Australia; stay for three years to assist the children, travel to meet others; and look at what the standards in Australia were and report back to the UK.[15] Short reports on the progress of children by the Sisters have been located.[16] In 1949, NCH did appear to consider and recommend setting up an auxiliary committee in Australia to act as an ‘on-the-ground’ supervisory body, but this did not occur.[17] We accept the evidence of Professors Constantine and Lynch that the role of the Sisters illustrates the NCH attempting to comply with the Home Office’s expectations in respect of continuity of care, “liaison officers” and a process for reporting back to the UK.[18]

11. In March 1952, the NCH was told by a receiving home that its request for quarterly reports on the children could not be met due to staff shortages.[19] Other than the Sisters’ reports, it does not appear that there was regular and consistent reporting by receiving institutions in Australia to NCH in England about the welfare of the children.[20] There is no evidence that NCH checked matters such as staffing ratios and punishment regimes in the institutions to which children were sent.[21] There is also no evidence to indicate that staff training centres or any consistent training regime were ever established,[22] and both the Moss and Ross reports noted the lack of appropriately trained staff in Australian homes.[23]

12. Although the NCH had received some favourable reports from the heads of various institutions and Mr Litten,[24] the Sisters’ reports (while relatively positive about the children themselves) were critical of the harsh conditions in Australia and indicated that they did not compare favourably with the UK. There is also evidence of some NCH Sisters in the UK being troubled about the content of letters received from children migrated by NCH. These concerns fed into an internal debate about the practice of child migration, about which some NCH directors already had reservations, and were a major factor in the NCH’s fairly rapid cessation of migration (which may have come in conjunction with the retirement of Mr Litten). 

The NCH put more measures in place than other institutions to monitor the care being afforded to child migrants. This allowed them to appreciate the poor care being provided to some child migrants in Australia. They then took the commendable decision to halt migration promptly in light of the concerns raised.

Nevertheless, we consider that NCH’s failure during the migration period to ensure that it received more regular reports from the receiving institutions meant that it could not be properly satisfied about some aspects of the care provided. This included the quality and number of staff, and the punishment regimes in place.

The Inquiry also finds that, although the NCH stopped migrating children due to concerns about the adverse conditions, it did not bring back to the UK those children previously migrated.

In these respects, the NCH failed to take sufficient care to protect child migrants from the risk of sexual abuse.

2.4.4 What has the NCH/AfC done in the post-migration period?

13. In 2000, CM-A19 alleged that prior to his migration a visitor to its children’s home at Painswick perpetrated sexual abuse on other children. He recalled that the visitor was spoken to and his visits ceased. Ms Kerry (then the NCH child migrant adviser) made a note of the allegation, and said she would discuss it with her supervisor and it would be followed up.[25] In December 2016, Ms Neilson reported the issue to Gloucestershire Police, who indicated that they were unable to locate a prior report and would not be taking the matter further in the absence of the victims’ details.[26] AfC was also made aware of a small number of complaints about child sexual abuse at Alverstoke, which Ms Neilson reported to Operation Hydrant in June 2016. She continues to assist with that investigation.[27]

14. In terms of allegations of sexual abuse post-migration:

a. ‘Child C’ disclosed, while in a group session with Ms Kerry, that she had been raped at the age of five by an eight year old boy living in the same home. She responded by offering an individual conversation. The former child migrant said that she did not want any further action and wanted to remain anonymous;

b. ‘Child D’ alleged, again in a group setting to Ms Kerry, that he was sexually abused by a 14 year old boy when he was around the same age. He also said that he did not want any further action and wanted to remain anonymous;[28] and

c. ‘Child E’ alleged that they were sexually abused by an older boy in Magill, but there are no further details available about the name of the offender or the date. This information was passed to the Australian Royal Commission.[29]

The NCH and latterly AfC responded appropriately to these specific allegations of sexual abuse made by former child migrants. 

15. In response to the recommendations of the Health Select Committee, Joan Kerry was appointed by NCH as a dedicated child migrant adviser. She performed that role from 1998-2001. NCH was apparently the first agency (during recent years) to set up services specifically for child migrants. Her role was to make contact with as many former child migrants as possible, find out what their needs were and try and meet those needs as far as possible. She assisted with family tracing, access to records, and counselling, and also visited Australia three times over a 12-month period. NCH also established a small fund to provide therapy for survivors of abuse in children’s homes, although this was not specifically for child migrants.[30] In February 2017, AfC established (in conjunction with other children’s charities) a counselling service to be provided to survivors of abuse who may come forward.[31] In evidence to the Inquiry, Ms Neilson apologised to all child migrants and said that AfC looks back on its involvement in child migration with sincere regret.[32] 

16. One claim of sexual abuse by a former child migrant has been lodged with AfC’s insurers, but it was not pursued after initial correspondence, in which AfC indicated that the period in which the abuse was said to have taken place was when the child was no longer in the care and custody of NCH, but in another home (in Australia).[33] 

The AfC’s stance in this litigation was inappropriate. Regardless of the strict legal position, this would have been the case for all children migrated by NCH and contradicts its assertion at the time of continuing responsibility for child migrants. Ongoing responsibility by the parent organisation was, as we have said in Part B.4, an expectation for child migration programmes.

It did not apologise until the evidence provided to us; and has not taken a proactive approach to the payment of compensation to individuals.

Nevertheless, NCH/AfC has taken a more constructive approach to support and reparations than many other institutions. 

 

References

Footnotes

  1. Although Ms Neilson referred to a figure of 3,350 based on the documents, she thought the estimate of 3,600 to the Health Committee in 1998 may be more accurate: Neilson 14 July 2017 69/4-17.
  2. Neilson 14 July 2017 70/22-24; Constantine 11 July 2017 142/2-9.
  3. Neilson 14 July 2017 70/2-16
  4. EWM000447_013. 
  5. Neilson 14 July 2017 80-81.
  6. CM-A19 7 March 2017 3-47.
  7. AFC000052_007.
  8. Neilson 14 July 2017 77-80; 105-109; EWM000447_015; AFC000027_003.
  9. When the NCH migrated children to Canada, they established the rules, appointed the staff and monitored the service, and the Canadian Government was actively involved in inspecting the children’s home and visiting young people in employment. Reports back were generally positive, complaints which were made were followed up and young people who did not settle were moved to more appropriate work: Neilson 14 July 2017 111/1-17; AFC000028_001, _004-019.
  10. AFC000013_001-007; AFC000020_027-032.
  11. Neilson 14 July 2017 73/7-24; AFC000013_018; CMT000386.
  12. Neilson 14 July 2017 76/8-13; EWM000447_004-005.
  13. Constantine 11 July 2017 147/17-23; 151-152; 154/4-15.
  14. AFC000014_014-017; AFC000056_004-005; Neilson 14 July 2017 91/2-20.
  15. Constantine 10 July 2017 100/1-16; 144-145; AFC000056_004.
  16. Neilson 14 July 2017 84-85.
  17. AFC000052_005; AFC000056_005-006; AFC000013_017-018.
  18. Constantine 12 July 2017 77.
  19. Neilson 14 July 2017 86/10-25; AFC000022_001; Constantine 11 July 2017 150-151.
  20. Neilson 14 July 2017 85-86.
  21. Neilson 14 July 2017 100/2-14
  22. Although there is some evidence in this regard: in April 1949 it was noted that training of staff was being attempted at Glenmore (AFC000013_014) and there is evidence that Cheltenham decided to develop a staff training programme (AFC000028_032).
  23. Neilson 14 July 2017 92/3-21; AFC000056_005; EWM000015_008.
  24. Neilson 14 July 2017 84/7-21.
  25. CM-A19 8 February 2017 3-48; Neilson 14 July 2017 95-96.
  26. AFC000052_008.
  27. Neilson 14 July 2017 96/13-19; AFC000052_006-008.
  28. Neilson 14 July 2017 97-99. Ms Kerry told Ms Neilson that she did speak to her line manager about these disclosures, however records of these discussions were destroyed in line with the policy in place: Neilson 14 July 2017 99/5-9.
  29. Neilson 14 July 2017 99
  30. Neilson 14 July 2017 94-95; 113-118
  31. Neilson 14 July 2017 118/9-16
  32. Neilson 14 July 2017 123-124
  33. Neilson 14 July 2017 116/6-13; 118-119
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