Action for Children’s response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report on child migration programmes

Posted by / Wednesday 18 July 2018 / Responses

Action for Children welcomes the publication of the report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales (IICSA) reviewing the UK Government child migration programmes which took place after the Second World War between 1945 and 1970.

A range of child welfare organisations, charities, religious organisations and local authorities were involved in the day-to-day operation of the child migration programmes led by UK Government policy in the immediate post-war years.

The NCH (now Action for Children) was responsible for the migration of 92 children to Australia from 1948-1954.

Government policy at the time viewed Australia as a land of better opportunities and that children migrated through the migration programmes would be provided with a stable family-like environment with religion playing a central role in their care.

The Inquiry heard evidence from former child migrants whose migration was arranged by a number of different organisations. Some of these had suffered abuse as children, and others were forced to live in harsh conditions and mistreated by those who were supposed to care for them.

Although the IICSA and child migration report recognises that the NCH did have plans to seek to secure the welfare of children who were migrated to Australia, and that the welfare of the child was considered to be of paramount importance to the NCH, it also made several criticisms about the organisation and how it operated and its failure to take sufficient care to protect child migrants during their involvement in this scheme:

  • Although the NCH repeatedly committed itself to the careful selection of children adopting various approaches to obtain consent and inform parents, it was acknowledged as part of the Inquiry that some parents’ consent was not fully informed or that consent of both parents was not always obtained.
  • The NCH attempted to comply with the Home Office’s expectations in respect of continuity of care but only short reports on the progress of children migrated to Australia were located.
  • Some reports provided by the NCH Sisters (who travelled with the NCH child migrants and some of whom stayed in Australia for periods of time to oversee arrangements) on continuity of care were critical of the harsh conditions in Australia and indicated that they did not compare favourably with those of the UK.
  • Some reports provided by the NCH Sisters in the UK suggested that they were troubled regarding the content of some of the letters received from children who had been migrated by the NCH.
  • The NCH was told by a home caring for the NCH child migrants in Australia that its request for quarterly reports on the children could not be met due to staff shortages. There was no evidence that the NCH checked matters such as staffing ratios and punishment regimes in the institutions to which children were sent.
  • Other than the NCH Sisters’ reports, it does not appear that there was regular and consistent reporting by receiving children’s homes in Australia to the NCH in England about the welfare of the children.
  • The NCH gave consideration to set up an auxiliary committee in Australia to act as an ‘on-the-ground’ supervisory body, but although consideration was given, this did not occur.
  • The Inquiry stated that Action for Children had not taken a proactive approach to the payment of compensation to individuals.

The IICSA heard how the NCH stopped migrating children, as a result of concerns about adverse conditions that did not compare favourably to that of the UK; however, despite this, many child migrants were not returned to the UK after previously being migrated.

The testimonies of those involved in the migration programmes have been brave and courageous. We would like to thank those that took part and publicly acknowledge the role that the NCH had in the migration of children as part of this scheme.

We are truly sorry for the displacement, harsh living conditions, sexual and other types of abuse experienced by child migrants. On behalf of the NCH, Action for Children apologises to those child migrants and their families, for any harm or distress they may have suffered as a result of involvement in this scheme and encourage anyone who has suffered abuse to come forward. It is our regret that we were ever involved in the child migration programmes.

Action for Children is committed to following the recommendations of the IICSA and learning from past events to ensure children and young people are supported and kept safe.

Since the time of the child migration programmes, Action for Children has made significant developments within our internal safeguarding processes. We are committed to the safeguarding of children and young people, and those who use our services. We now have in place robust and comprehensive procedures, management arrangements and quality assurance activities to ensure that children in our care are as safe as possible, and we immediately investigate any concerns should they ever be raised. Our arrangements for safeguarding have enabled us, as an organisation, to ensure safer recruitment processes and checks are in place for those responsible for delivering services.

All staff must undertake mandatory foundation safeguarding training, and those working directly with children and young people are provided with specialised training and development opportunities to help refine their skills and meet the needs of the service users. We ensure that staff are held accountable for their work, and any allegations regarding staff, carers, volunteers, or trustees are shared with the police and relevant local authority immediately and then fully investigated.

The services we provide to children, young people and families are reviewed and evaluated at both a national and local level. Managers of services carry out regular reviews and audits of service. Case files and care packages are reviewed and scrutinised. Our quality assurance functions involve independent experienced managers reviewing cases and meeting with staff and managers to ensure that we know how well we are safeguarding children. Our annual review of safeguarding of children, enables us to undertake a more comprehensive review of Action for Children services and ensure that we continually learn and improve in light of changing times.

Our children’s homes are subject to unannounced visits from both independent managers commissioned to carry out such visits parties and external inspectorates; we work closely with regulatory bodies and local authorities to ensure practice is safe. Action for Children has developed a comprehensive quality assurance programme for children’s homes to help us routinely evaluate the quality of our practice and ensure we can respond quickly when we are alerted to improvements that are needed.

Any safeguarding or child protection concern is taken seriously and dealt with in accordance with organisational policy. Our safeguarding policy and child protection procedures are made available to all staff online.

Senior Leaders, the Chief Executive and Board of Trustees take an active role within safeguarding on behalf of the organisation. Our Safeguarding Board is chaired by our Chief Executive and the Board of Trustees receives quarterly reporting on safeguarding performance issues.

We know that safeguarding children who can sometimes have many needs further to their difficult past lives, is not always easy. However, we face those challenges and take pride in our work to ensure that children who come into contact with our service are protected. 

Carol Iddon

Acting Chief Executive