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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

What would sufficient care to protect child migrants from the risk of sexual abuse have looked like?

16. As indicated above, the institutional Core Participants argued that we do not have adequate evidence to define what the appropriate ‘standard’ of ‘sufficient’ care for child migrants was and should instruct a childcare expert to assist us.

17. The CCIICSA argued that the applicable ‘standard’ for us to apply should be the level of conduct that a person or institution must fulfil to avoid being found liable as a matter of civil law.[19] We disagree with such a proposed approach, because it is not the Inquiry’s role to determine civil liability.[20]

18. We do not, in fact, accept that the language of ‘standards’ is appropriate here at all. As is apparent from the section on HMG at Part C.1, it is clear that HMG did not impose legally binding ‘standards’ on the voluntary institutions, through regulations or even primary legislation, and indeed that this was a key failing of the child migration schemes.

19. As we explain in detail however, in Part B.4, which follows this section, there were clear and repeated indications given to the voluntary institutions, largely through the Home Office, as to how they should conduct their migration schemes. This took the form of the Curtis Report (which principally concentrated on childcare practice but included an important reference to child migration), memoranda and guidance issued thereafter, and later, specific agreements with each sending institution. This material reflected consistently similar themes around selection, consent, the type of institution, the nature of care, contact with the outside world and the sort of post-migration monitoring that was expected.

20. These ‘Curtis’ elements of behaviour and practice in many ways reflected what some of the voluntary organisations had been doing for some time, some as far back as the 1800s. Some, such as Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and the National Children’s Home set out these practices in handbooks and other internal principles and documents.

21. These elements were also stressed by others whose views should have been given weight, such as the Women’s Group on Public Welfare.

22. We have also learned a certain amount about the views of social workers and local authority Children’s Officers at the time of migration, and about the opinions of some former members of Fairbridge staff. This all adds to our understanding of what practices were at the time and what was considered reasonable, and their views continued to reflect the Curtis principles.

23. When the seminal Ross mission toured Australia in 1956, it was clear that it was judging the conditions in the schools against these expected Curtis principles and found the vast majority falling very far short.

24. The agreements which HMG initiated with each sending institution post-Ross sought to reinforce these expected practices.

25. We appreciate that even a child who was selected for migration on the basis that they were emotionally robust enough and prepared for migration, who was cared for in a small cottage home by a carefully selected, suitably qualified and well-supervised member of staff who acted as a substitute parent, who was properly integrated into the local community, and who was not subject to any physical, mental or emotional abuse, may still have been sexually abused. Nevertheless, in our view and experience, a child who had the benefit of some or all of those measures would be exposed to less of a risk of sexual abuse, and if sexual abuse did occur, such a child would be more likely to report it.

We therefore consider that we have a persuasive body of material, from the child migration era and context itself, that tells us what those involved in the schemes considered was the appropriate way of caring for the children. We set this out in further detail in Part B.4.

These expected or good practices do not specifically address sexual abuse, but they are the sort of measures which were recognised as being the best way, at that time, of protecting child migrants from a range of risks, including the risk of sexual abuse.

This context-specific evidence is much more relevant to the issues that we have to decide than that which a generic childcare expert could give us at this historical remove.

For these reasons we consider it is not necessary for us to instruct such an expert to assist us. 

26. We turn now to two additional arguments made on the ‘standards’ issues.

27. HMG submitted that we should obtain factual evidence as to training, governance and inspection regimes concerning children’s residential care in England and Wales.[21] Similarly, the SoN argued that we should obtain expert evidence of what would have been accepted as reasonable by a responsible body of practitioners providing institutional care in England and Wales at the time.[22] We understand they are referring to practitioners in a local authority or voluntary organisation providing institutional care in England and Wales.

28. We disagree. The child migration context is specific. We need to determine what was considered reasonable in the context of a child migration programme at the time, not a residential home in England and Wales. By way of example, we can well imagine that what was considered a reasonable level of post-placement supervision is likely to have varied between those two different contexts.

29. The CCIICSA argued that we should obtain evidence as to what the conditions were actually like in homes in England and Wales during the migration period.[23] 

30. Again we disagree. We need to determine what the expected practices in the context of the child migration programmes were, and not whether a potentially different standard was in fact being complied with in a different context.

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