Friday, 18th February 2000
There have been few inquiry statements more chilling than “Lost in Care”, the Waterhouse report into the abuses carried out in children’s homes and foster care in North Wales during the 70s and 80s. And few that prick our social conscience more. How was it that the provision our society made for the welfare and betterment of children in dire need should have gone so incredibly wrong?
Institutional care for children has progressed from the Dickensian days of the 19th century. The aim is not simply to provide practical necessities of food, shelter and clothing, but also comfort, security and happiness – and more! Those of us with children of our own will know the efforts we make to nurture in them the intangible, yet vital, qualities of belonging, faith in others and optimism in life – things that we strongly believe will help them meet the challenges of life.
So, naturally, we hope that institutional care will also strive to provide those same qualities in the absence of a functioning family situation. But, Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary summarised the events in Clywd and Gwynedd as “appalling misdeeds, wickedness, and total abuse of trust”. It hurts the heart to hear of any abuse of a child – what to speak of such rampant and prolonged evil as catalogued in the Waterhouse report.
Emotional damage and relationship difficulties are the main permanent wounds cited by the victims. These will have undoubtedly diminished their quality of life. Most Hindus, like myself, will have been distressed at what they heard this week because Hindu culture is often praised for its strong sense of family values. The reality has its flaws, but there is an underlying appreciation that the essential ingredient for a healthy relationship is commitment – whether in the context of friendship, marriage or business. And, commitment is possible only when we can trust others and offer ourselves to be trusted.
Trust is said to be a fragile seedling. Seedlings are plentiful, yet it’s rare that they are allowed to reach maturity. We enter this world with an open sense of trust, but it gets constantly battered and tested as we age. When that ability to trust is shattered in an adult mind – it is a tragedy. How much more so for a little boy or girl alone in the world and totally reliant on a system that punishes, belittles or abuses them?
We owe them an abject apology, a commitment to ensuring that it can never happen again and a prayer that, despite such mistreatment, they may find the capacity to trust and the opportunities to love and to be loved as they need and as they surely deserve.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.