Child abuse victims need end to false promises
THE decision by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) to take no action against a social worker who ignored claims a boy was being abused are a worrying omen ahead of the first public sessions of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.
As I reported earlier this month, the SSSC believes it cannot act against the man, who still practises as a social worker. Not only would the watchdog have to prove the worker didn’t do enough to protect Richard Tracey from abuse in the 1980s, it says, it would have to be able to demonstrate his actions were inadequate by the standards expected of social workers then.
Richard, 48, was fostered at five into a family where he was often beaten. There are allegations he was also sexually abused by a family friend. At 15, he was admitted to Redbrae, a residential children’s home in Maybole. Here he also suffered physical abuse.
Many of the facts of Richard’s abuse are confirmed by the contemporaneous notes in his social work file. But while the notes confirm he was being “leathered”, that his foster mother drank heavily and that she feared her husband would “go too far” in his violence – little was done to protect him. Instead, the notes regularly blame Richard for his predicament, express a wish things would “settle down” and on a few occasions suggest social work may withdraw and leave the family to get on with it.
Richard complained to the SSSC, seeking action against his former social worker. It doesn’t appear difficult to prove the man did nothing to stop the abuse. Notes he wrote and signed himself show him accusing Richard of exaggerating and explicitly deciding to do nothing about an incident in which a worker struck Richard with a riding crop. The harm Richard suffered is routinely minimised.
The SSSC’s reason for inaction is, according to lawyer Simon Collins who represents victims of historic child abuse, “an absolute and utter cop-out”. Professor Bill Jordan, a retired social work expert, says it is outrageous to suggest there weren’t standards of practice in the 1970s and 1980s. The death of seven-year-old Maria Colwell had led in1974 to new procedures for dealing with child abuse and neglect, he says, adding: “No social worker could fail to be aware of all these things.”
An astute, articulate and tireless inquirer into his own history, Richard has nevertheless been fobbed off by social services, by the police and now by the SSSC. This isn’t about a witch-hunt against Richard’s former social worker. It is about whether there is any real accountability for the abuse people suffered in state care.
I can well understand that the SSSC may not want to investigate mistakes made by a worker some three decades ago. It is difficult to hold people to account after so much time.
But abuse victims are being told Scotland is ready and willing to shine a light on the dark corners of the past and as ministers have said, to “give people a voice and an opportunity for justice”. If that offer is not sincere, the various agencies involved should be frank about it. Anything else is giving false hope to people like Richard, who are desperate for justice, accountability and honest answers.