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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


A.2: Lambeth Council

Map of The London Borough of Lambeth divided into its constituent administrative divisions. Also shown is part of the neighbouring Borough of Croydon. Marked on the map are the children's homes Angell Road (in the Lambeth division of Coldharbour), South Vale (within the Lambeth division of Knights Hill), Shirley Oaks (within The Borough of Croydon) and Ivy House (within The Borough of Croydon).

The London Borough of Lambeth and the children’s homes considered in this report. (In September 1987, Ivy House was moved from the Shirley Oaks site to Warham Road, Croydon.)

4. The London Borough of Lambeth was formed in 1965. It covers an area of approximately seven miles north to south, and three miles east to west, close to central London, with the River Thames at its northern border. Its population centres are Kennington, Vauxhall, Brixton, Stockwell, Clapham, Streatham and Norwood.

5. The London Borough of Lambeth’s population has fluctuated over the decades, falling from over 300,000 in 1971 to 239,500 in 1989 and rising again to a current population of nearly a third of a million. The socio-demographic profile of its community was forged in part by the Windrush generation who migrated from the Caribbean to the UK from the late 1940s and early 1950s onwards. The 1991 census recorded that “Lambeth’s ethnic population” was 31.3 percent and in 2000 it was said to have “the largest black Caribbean population of any London authority as well as a significant black African population”.[1] Figures for 2017 recorded 41.5 percent of the population in Lambeth as being from black, Asian and ethnically diverse groups. Historically the London Borough of Lambeth has had higher than average unemployment and higher levels of deprivation compared with other inner London boroughs.

6. Employed staff and elected councillors owed responsibilities towards children in care.

6.1. Staff: In terms of senior officers, in 1971 the statutory role of director of social services was created to replace the previous role of children’s officer. The role of director of children’s services was introduced in 2004, and the current director of children’s services role in Lambeth Council is held by the strategic director for children’s services, who has lead responsibility for delivery of all Lambeth Council’s children’s services for children and families. Over time there were a number of reorganisations, but the principle of different divisions being responsible respectively for social workers and children’s homes remained, with each division being headed by an assistant director who reported to the director of social services. By 1970 Lambeth Council had replaced the role of town clerk with that of chief executive, who was the head of all the paid staff working for the Council.

6.2. Councillors: Over time, councillors have held positions as chair of the Children’s Committee or Social Services Committee, and since 2004 as lead member for children’s services within the cabinet system.[2] There were a number of sub-committees to which functions were delegated – including the Children’s Homes Sub-Committee, which was replaced in 1989 by the Children and Young Persons Services Sub-Committee[3] – but overall responsibility for policy and governance of children’s homes and children in care remained with the Social Services Committee. The committees reflected the political balance of the elected council. Committee meetings and their minutes were open to the public (except for sensitive matters).

6.3. Local authority: The Local Government Act 2000 brought in new governance arrangements for local authorities and Lambeth Council adopted a leader and cabinet model of governance. The Cabinet was responsible for taking all major executive and policy decisions, other than those which were delegated to Officers. A key part of the new arrangements was the Scrutiny Committee comprising backbench councillors designed to hold the executive of the Council to account.[4] In 2021, the director of children’s services and the lead member of children’s services within Lambeth Council share responsibility with all officers and members of the local authority to act as effective and caring corporate parents for looked after children.[5]

Children in care

7. There were high numbers of looked after children in Lambeth relative to other London local authorities.[6] Between 1965 and 2000, around 15,000 children were placed in Lambeth Council’s care, with more than 9,000 of those placed in its children’s homes.[7] Ms Annie Hudson, strategic director of children’s services from May 2016 to March 2020, explained that Lambeth Council’s poor planning and a lack of early intervention with families in need contributed to these high figures:

there hadn’t been investment in early intervention and ways of supporting families so that children didn’t need to come into care. What one might imagine is there would have been a crisis and the kind of reaction was to immediately to take them into care, either through the courts or through voluntary reception into care, as it would have been known at that point in time. So a very kind of reactive rather than a kind of considered approach to admitting children into care.”[8]

8. There was evidence of overrepresentation of black children in Lambeth Council’s care. A report of 15 April 1981 titled Black Children in Lambeth Residential Care was submitted to the Social Services Committee. It noted that figures for 1980 showed that an average of 55 percent of children in Lambeth Council’s residential care provision were black and that an average of 57 percent of children at Shirley Oaks were black. The report stated:

although a minority of children in care (23%) are placed in Lambeth residential establishments, the numbers of black children in residential care are disproportionate to their representation in the overall child population, which is approximately 40% in 0–19 age range”.[9]

9. Over time, Lambeth Council followed the national trend away from children’s homes and towards foster care as the preferred placement for looked after children. In 1975, there were 2,961 children in care in Lambeth, with 34 percent (1,000 children) in children’s homes.[10] Lambeth Council admitted very young children (under five years old) into children’s homes throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s – long after this ceased to be acceptable practice.[11] By 1996, all but one of its children’s homes had closed. By September 2019, there were 355 children looked after by Lambeth Council, of which 72 percent (259 children) were in foster care. The remainder were in children’s homes, secure units, semi-independent placements, or other residential or family settings.[12]

Response to allegations of abuse

10. Between 1986 and 2000, as summarised below, Lambeth Council commissioned a number of internal and external reports relating to the sexual abuse of children in its care and its failures to protect children. Over a similar period, between 1991 and 2001, a series of external reports (such as by the Social Services Inspectorate – SSI) were highly critical of Lambeth Council. The Metropolitan Police Service investigated a number of allegations of sexual abuse in Lambeth Council’s children’s homes from the 1970s onwards (as summarised below).[13] It was supported during Operation Middleton by the Children’s Homes in Lambeth Enquiry (CHILE), established by Lambeth Council in 1998, until 2003.

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