Thursday, September 16

When moral piety gets in the way of doing the right thing, children suffer | Sonia Sodha

TO The council’s most important job is not emptying dumpsters or filling in potholes, which most people see from day to day. He has by far one of the most important jobs anyone could have: being a parent. Local authorities, among them, have parental responsibility for more than 100,000 children in care in the United Kingdom. These are some of the most vulnerable children in society, removed from the care of their parents because they have experienced or are at risk of abuse and neglect. Anyone unwilling to take that responsibility seriously should not approach an elected office or senior leadership in a local council.

How, then, did the Lambeth council in South London put itself in a position where members and senior managers, at best, looked the other way while the children in their care were subjected to the most depraved sexual, physical and emotional abuse and, in the worst case scenario, were they complicit? The report of the independent investigation on child sexual abuse (IICSA) in Lambeth, published last week, sets out the appalling scale and nature of what has happened over several decades since the 1960s. More than 705 former residents of Lambeth children’s homes have filed complaints of sexual abuse; research says the actual scale will be significantly larger.

The experience of these children, supposedly taken from their families for their own protection, is atrocious. The children were photographed while being raped by “caretakers”. In one household, children under the age of five, too young to know what was happening, were routinely sexually abused. Children lie in bed at night listening to the screams of other children, knowing that on another night it would be them. When a boy was found dead in a bathroom, the council did not inform the coroner that he had been the victim of sexual abuse, but said there was no indication that he had been unhappy in the run-up to his death.

The investigation is scathing into how the Labor council allowed this abuse. It found that board members and officials employed adults they knew posed a risk to children, including a convicted child sex offender who was allowed to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and failed to investigate employees suspected of child sexual abuse. . The Lambeth council opened the doors of a children’s home to any volunteer who expressed an interest in spending time with the children, unchecked, a “potential license for child sexual abuse,” according to the report. It also conducted inadequate controls on foster caregivers, placing children in the homes of abusers and pedophiles without supervision.

How could this have been allowed to happen? The investigation is critical of police and regulators, but its most critical fire centers on Lambeth’s political and administrative leadership. The report finds that councilors focused on internal political disputes and entered into battle with the Thatcher government to a point that completely distracted them from their responsibilities to children: the children in care were simply “pawns in a power game. toxic”.

Councilors claimed to be committed to progressive politics, equality, and anti-racism, but harassment, racism, and sexism were rampant and, worst of all, they did nothing to address the disgusting racism faced by large numbers. of black children in charge of whites. personal. The Lambeth unions prioritized the interests of their members over child welfare. Endemic fraud and financial corruption compromised any investigation into child abuse. There was a “determined and inexplicable loyalty to a known sex offender” regardless of the risk to the children. Councilors simply ignored warnings from a whistleblower who repeatedly expressed concern about the “very dangerous” situation facing children. The damning conclusion of the investigation is that “those who ran the council for the most part just didn’t care enough to prioritize the protection of children.”

What happened in Lambeth is a stain on our collective consciousness, but it is far from unique. Islington, Rochdale and Nottingham are three other councils that have been haunted by revelations about abuse in their children’s homes. Many more councils have failed to keep the children in their care safe from gangs of child molesters: Rotherham, Telford, Bradford, Oxford, Derby, Newcastle. The BBC, the Catholic Church and professional football clubs are also among the national institutions that have offered coverage to child molesters.

Without the proper safeguards, institutional abuse will always occur: all that is needed are power structures that give perpetrators access to potential victims without controls or accountability, and the small minority of men who abuse children will find the right. way to them. No institution is immune.

But cases of abuse in councils run by Labor, the church, and charities like Oxfam highlight that organizations filled with people who consider themselves to be of a higher moral standard must be particularly wary of infiltrating abusers. People who are inclined to pat themselves on the back for siding with angels cannot be less blind to the horrors that unfold on their own turf and their creed offers abusers an easy way to point out virtue and evade. The responsability. He cannot be raping children: he is a man of God. Those kids aren’t telling the truth: he’s anti-Thatcher. He could not be exploiting underage prostitutes: he has dedicated his life to charity.

Those Lambeth councilors of the 1980s who, according to research, prioritized their war against Margaret Thatcher and excluded the monitoring standards in the homes of the children they were responsible for, can claim that it is unfair that they are blamed so much. . They really didn’t know what was going on, did they? Yet for his modern-day equivalents, who put abstract creed before material reality, Lambeth should serve as the last warning. Opposing the right politician, putting on a suit, or working for a charity – none of this gets you off the hook for not being mindful of child protection.

Sonia Sodha is a columnist for Observer

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