By Philip King
I am delighted to introduce the first edition of our Child Abuse Litigation Service Newsletter – Litigation News First.
But first, let me briefly introduce myself before explaining the purpose of the newsletter and what this edition, and future editions, will cover.
I am social work consultant/expert social worker with 39 years post qualification child protection experience in England and Wales. For the past 12 years, I have provided expert opinion in child abuse litigation cases instructed by claimants and defendants. I now head a small team of expert social workers with a wide range of experience in child care matters. We provide a range of services including preliminary and full expert reports, and a file audit and chronology preparation service
Back to the launch of the bi-monthly newsletters. With a foundation of a social work perspective, these newsletters will draw on the contributions, experience and views of a wide range of people involved in child abuse litigation. From victims/survivors and their organisations, defendant local authorities/other agencies, defendant and claimant lawyers, psychologist/psychiatrists and insurance companies, we aim to disseminate thought provoking material which will create lively debate. We will put children, their care and protection at the heart of the material. We will be covering a range of topics, not only directly pertinent to this work, but also various areas which are indirectly related such as:
· Practice issues emanating from care proceedings – see our stories in this edition on care proceedings.
· Key research findings – in this edition we have a story about the research by Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
· News from inquiries and serious case reviews – see our story in this edition on how victims and survivors of child sexual abuse often feel stereotyped when they disclose their abuse.
. Other key topics which may help in our work such as our article on online grooming.
We will be inviting contributions from a broad spectrum of views to avoid the dangers for us all of confirmation bias!
So, for this edition the main theme, in light of the recent IICSA report on Accountability and Reparations (September 2019), is how well the various processes for redress meet the needs of victims/survivors and how do we achieve a fair and effective system; an ambition which I am sure all parties would sign up to. The IICSA report points to many people who found some processes hostile, baffling, frustrating and futile.
I believe that redress schemes, such as the Lambeth Redress Scheme has a great deal to offer. However, the needs of victims/survivors/claimants are many and complex. At the one end of the spectrum are those that do not claim redress because of the actual/perceived trauma and hurdles involved in making a claim or application.
At the other end, there are those who want their day in court to see some justice. There should not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach in trying to achieve a fair, just and effective system.
Also, we need to think hard and creatively about providing effective help to claimants/applicants in order to try and undo some of the damage that has already been done. An approach similar to that with personal injury with a range of restorative services needs to be considered as a part of any schemes.
It is interesting to see that the House of Lords recently gave a second reading to The Historic Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill. This proposes a new statutory Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse to advocate for those who were subject to abuse, ensuring the co-ordination and availability of services to victims and survivors. The Bill also contains provisions for the establishment of a Historic Abuse Redress Board which has authority to pay an initial “acknowledgement payment” of £10,000 in advance of the full consideration of a claim. Also, Scotland is moving towards a national redress scheme – more about this in later editions.
One of the questions that continues to resonate with me is why we are not learning more effectively from mistakes/failures in order that children in the future will be better protected. I am sure that many like me, see the same themes and patterns occurring in case after case which lead to serious damage to some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It would be better, both in human and financial terms, if we could work towards an improved learning approach to failure rather than the blame culture which exists. In this respect, there is a lot to learn from the aviation industry about creating the right approach to mistakes and failure. This industry accepts that mistakes will be made but creates an open reporting and learning approach in order to reduce the risk of future mistakes occurring.
Developing a learning culture in reducing the risk of future harm, should be one of the foundations of a redress scheme. More about this approach in future issues.