How a Local Authority Failed Children in its Care – Sexual Activity in Community Homes

This was sent to the blog by Wally Harbert. This is also available on his website How a local authority failed children in its care [6]

Thank you once again to Wally for his contribution from a valuable perspective of  experience that is seldom heard from, and often overlooked. I would be willing to publish more experiences that ex child care workers and Social Services Directors have had.

The Child Abuse Inquiry should be listening and learning and speaking to these people with valuable insight – but are they ??? and if not why not?

There is a lot of stuff out there about bad behaviour in the past but not much about what was done about it at the time. Child care staff are made to look incompetent fools. This is misleading. I hope the following helps to fill the gap.

How a local authority failed children in its care [6]

What the child sexual abuse inquiry needs to know.

I was a director of social services from 1970 to 1990, first in the London Borough of Hackney then in the County of Avon.

The most poignant report I read during those twenty years, Sexual Activity in Community Homes, is reproduced below. It was drafted in 1980 by a perceptive residential child care manager in Avon and gives depth and context to discussions about historic child abuse in institutions.

It depicts children as living, sentient beings, trying to understand the world around them and shows how they needed – and failed to receive – protection from one another as well as from predatory adults. There is an added poignancy to the report because, despite strenuous efforts by me and my managers, the information it contained was never allowed to be placed before the social services committee.

When you have read it, you may feel that it would not be possible for the quality of care to sink lower. You would be wrong. What followed was much worse when every effort was made to frustrate investigations into allegations of child abuse. Do not be surprised that the prison system has become the finishing school for children in care. [Possibly as illustrated by this blogs recent post Adam Rickwood 3. R v Sec State Justice 6 Feb 2015 Court of Appeal [5] cfb]

Sexual Activity in Community Homes

Senior staff have been concerned for some months about what appears to be an increasing amount of sexual activity in small community homes. The development of alternative forms of care for your children and for less disturbed older children has meant that the average age of admission to community homes has risen to a point where the majority of units now house groups of adolescents in the 12 -16 year age group.

At this age youngsters are going through a vital stage of their development, particularly in terms of sexual awareness but many have been unable to come to terms with relationships in their families. With their peers or with society in general. They are at a naturally testing, experimenting and rebellious time of life compounded by the additional problem  of living in a strange environment with a group of children and being looked after by staff who are generally unexperienced, insecure and often quite afraid of them.

It appears that an increasing number of children received into care have already had sexual experience. Some young girls are well versed in sexual practices and others have been known to have been practicing prostitution. Boys are perhaps, less experienced in heterosexual relationships tending to be more involved in homosexual activity – whether this be alone or with others. There appears to be some increase in the number of younger children who have been involved in incest or who have suffered sexual experience at the hands of adults. Other children have been so emotionally damaged or stripped of self-esteem and sense of personal value, that they resort to any experience which offers them warmth and love no matter how shortlived that experience may be.

Manning levels* in community homes have been described by professional staff as “desperately low”; one member of staff on duty with eight children is regarded as normal. It is not possible for one person to run a household, organise and supervise a group of children effectively, deal with social workers, parents and other callers whilst still finding time to meet the personal and emotional needs of individual children.

Some children resort to desperate measures to gain attention from staff but a close personal contact can only be made by staff by depriving other members of the group. The chain reaction which can follow often means that children are left feeling deprived and unable to gain comfort from staff; they resort to other methods involving children in the home and those outside. Sexual involvement is almost certainly the easiest way for an immature youngster to be found acceptable to someone.

Few care staff are experienced in handling this problem; even those who are, feel increasingly unable to cope and this leads to a sense of failure ,almost despair when they see girls becoming pregnant or when they learn of sexual activity taking place on the premises unknown to them. Staff are highly conscious of their responsibilities towards all the children in their care and they are worried about those who use their sexuality in unacceptable ways; they are also worried about those who, whilst inexperienced themselves, are learning from others.

Staff are highly conscious of their own vulnerability and the risk they run of being accused of malpractice by children. They are aware of the implications of this vulnerability and are apprehensive that the Social Services Committee appears willing to condone manning levels* which leave them virtually defenceless. One long-standing member of staff recently tendered his resignation saying that he could no longer accept the level of anxiety occasioned by allegations made against him by teenage and younger girls in his home.

There followed 29 examples of sexual activity among children in homes including:

Boys and girls being sexually active in and outside homes, allegations of rape, pregnancies, open masturbation, the use of drink and drugs, girls friendly with prostitutes, children approaching strangers for sex, involvement in a vice ring, men invited into homes at night by children.

*This was the terminology required in reports destined to be seen by councillors. We had manpower policies, manning levels, and a manpower count. Most of our staff were women.

My evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse can be found on Cathy Fox Blog –Wally Harberts Submission to IICSA [7] [or on Wally’s site  Abuse in children’s homes Evidence for the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual abuse [1]cfb]

Bent Twigs is a novel based on my experiences.

benttwigsThe publisher describes it as “local government with the lid off” and calls it, “…a frightening insight into the serpentine ramifications of local government and the effects of its arcane protocols”. He goes on, “We see noble motives and intentions brought low by hidden agendas, greed, and power games, coupled with buck-passing of a refined order. We get to see how…..reports can be passed from one committee to another each making amendments until sensible proposals are made unworkable”.

[It is available here Wally Harbert Bent Twigs [10] and some time ago I wrote about it here Bent Twigs by Wally Harbert [9] cfb]

Wally Harbert                                                         Posted February 2017.

Please note that victims of abuse may be triggered by reading this information. These links are generally UK based.

  • The Sanctuary for the Abused [A] has advice on how to prevent triggers.
  • National Association for People Abused in Childhood [B] has a freephone helpline and has links to local support groups.
  • One in Four [C]
  • Havoca [D].
  • Useful post on Triggers [E]  from SurvivorsJustice [F] blog.
  • Jim Hoppers pages on Mindfulness [G]  and Meditation [H] may be useful.
  • Hwaairfan blog An Indigenous Australian Approach to Healing Trauma  [J]
  • Survivors UK for victims and survivors of male rape or the sexual abuse of men [K]
  • Voicing CSA group [L] helps arrange survivors meetings in your area
  • A Prescription for me blog Various emotional support links [M]
  • ShatterBoys -“Male Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse Inspiring change, Through Shared Experience Whilst Building Connections…Together We Can Heal” [N]


[1] Wally Harbert website Abuse in children’s homes Evidence for the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual abuse

[2] 2015 Feb 3 Cathy Fox Blog Historic Abuse in Children’s Homes – The Management Context by Wally Harbert

[3] 2014 Nov 9 Cathy Fox Blog Child Protection in a Hostile Environment by Wally Harbert

[4] Cathy Fox Blog Avon Category

[5] 2017 Feb 15 Cathy Fox Blog Adam Rickwood 3. R v Sec State Justice 6 Feb 2015 Court of Appeal

[6] 2017 Feb Wally Herbert How a local authority failed children in its care

[8] Cathy Fox Blog Wally Harbert search

[9] 2014 Nov 21 Cathy Fox blog Bent Twigs by Wally Harbert

[10] Wally Harbert Bent Twigs

[A] Sanctuary for the Abused







About cathy fox blog on Child Abuse

the truth will out, the truth will shout, the truth will set us free...
This entry was posted in Avon, Books about Child Abuse, cathyfoxblog, Child sexual abuse, Childrens home, Hackney, IICSA Goddard / Jay child sexual abuse Inquiry, IICSA Independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse, Prisons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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