Council apologises to survivor of child sexual exploitation 30 years after abuse took place

Council apologises to survivor of child sexual exploitation 30 years after abuse took place

This month we have heard in the news about another survivor of child sexual abuse and exploitation who has received a written apology from the Director of Children and Families at Leeds City Council as a result of a breach of their duty of care towards her whilst she was a looked after child placed in their care. It is the first time a Local Authority has publicly admitted responsibility for such a failure.

The story of the survivor dates back to her childhood in the 1980s, when she was sexually abused by her father and her mother was unable to care for her due to her own issues. She moved between a Leeds City Council children’s home and her family home, with the children’s home eventually becoming her long term placement when she was 13 years old. She describes being sexually, physically, emotionally and mentally abused at the children’s home, the place she was moved to in order to safeguard her from the abuse she was suffering at home in the care of her parents. She was raped by two boys who lived at the children’s home, and men would park outside the property, bringing the children cigarettes and alcohol. The staff were aware of these dangers, even if the children were not, and these men were pimps, grooming the vulnerable young people living at the children’s home. At 14 years old she was trafficked to London, controlled by an adult male, and forced to work as a prostitute. She was beaten and abused if she did not comply with what he told her to do, and the only way she saw to escape this abuse was to return to the children’s home where she was also abused, and so the cycle of abuse continued with no real escape. Two members of staff at the children’s home were convicted of child sexual abuse that occurred in the 1980s and were sentenced in 2017 for these crimes, both unrelated to the abuse suffered by the survivor in this article.

By 15 years old she was self harming and showing significant signs of trauma, but was returned to a semi-secure residential placement and continued to be forced into prostitution by the man she considered to be her boyfriend. She eventually reported him to the police, which would have been a brave and frightening experience, only for the police to say that without another two corroborating victim accounts they could not prosecute the man in question. She has said that she was felt she was to blame by staff at the residential placement when she was coerced by men into appearing in a pornographic film.

She returned home to her mother aged 16, pregnant and continuing to be prostituted. She had three children removed from her care, and her Care Order was discharged in 1991.

One of the significant parts of this survivor’s history is that she was, as a young teenager, somehow held accountable and responsible for her part in the grooming and exploitation, as evidenced in written case notes, and professionals did not take her reports and allegations seriously as a result. This is something we have observed through our breach of duty work at WillisPalmer, and there have been references to serious child sexual exploitation that suggests the young person – the child – was complicit and choosing to place themselves in a dangerous situation, at risk of harm. Sometimes children and young people can present at much older than their years, especially those who have grown up in challenging circumstances, and it is so important that professionals are not distracted by this and remember that they are still minors, with laws in place to protect them as a result.

In social work, much more emphasis is now put on the child’s lived experience and the importance of social workers understanding the child’s life from their perspective. It is important for children and young people to feel that they are being listened to, that their voice and opinion is being heard, and that they are believed when they report abuse.

The trauma and lasting impact on children who have suffered abuse and neglect cannot be underestimated. So many children who do not receive the support and care they need go on to suffer further during adolescence and into their adult lives. They may have difficulties forming relationships, understanding what a healthy relationship looks like and subsequently becoming the victim or perpetrator of domestic abuse; they may turn to alcohol and illicit substances as a way of coping with their feelings and the trauma they suffered; they may experience mental health issues that impact on all aspects of their lives and ability to function; they may, as a result of any or many of these issues, engage in criminal activity.

Much is said about statistics relating to poor outcomes for looked after children. But do we know how much of it is because of the lack of support, to prevent the abuse, to safeguard them from abuse, to provide a suitable and safe place away from abuse, and to provide long term therapeutic, trauma informed interventions to try to address the abuse that has happened?

It is saddening and alarming to hear these types of reports that children have not been protected and that the people who were there to protect them have failed in their duty of care, but professionals need to be aware of these cases and what these survivors have experienced in order to be able to learn from them and make sure that they develop their own practice so that they can support children and young people, build relationships and listen to them, and safeguard them from harm so that we will hopefully read less about similar survivors of childhood abuse in the future.

As part of our Child Abuse Litigation service and breach of duty work, WillisPalmer has been involved with the Lambeth Children’s Homes Redress Scheme since it commenced in January 2018 and until the deadline for applications closed in 2022. Our experts have assisted hundreds of survivors of child sexual abuse by preparing chronologies using Social Care case files that have dated back as far as the 1950s, documenting the lives of the children who were in the care of the London Borough of Lambeth at the time. The redress scheme was the first of its kind, where the Local Authority admitted responsibility and liability in relation to the children who were placed in it’s care and subsequently abused at it’s children’s homes and schools.

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