Publish date: 01 Dec 2022

No part of Scotland was “immune” from abuse for children in Foster Care according to evidence gathered by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI).

Today, Thursday 1 December, Inquiry Chair Lady Smith concluded public hearings examining the abuse of children in foster care and of children who were boarded out.

During hearings over the last 7 months, evidence was given by over 250 witnesses, many being able to share their experiences for the first time.

In excess of 40,000 relevant documents have been recovered, with evidence from experts, local authorities, independent fostering agencies, foster carers, family members and social workers also being heard.

Lead counsel to the Inquiry Ruth Innes KC said: “The evidence which has been gathered and heard in this case study has sadly demonstrated that over the period from 1930 to 2014, children have suffered abuse in boarding out and foster care.

“That is not restricted in geographical scope – no area of Scotland is immune. We heard of physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, neglect and exploitation.”

Evidence gathered and explored by SCAI also identified a number of key themes that included:

  • Many children believed their carers were motivated by personal financial gain
  • Widespread failures in record keeping exposed children to risk of abuse as there was no ability to trace patterns of behaviour
  • Children were often separated from their family and siblings
  • Some children were thrown out of the foster home and not spoken to again when their care concluded
  • The voice of the child was either not heard - or heard and discounted or not believed
  • Many local authorities and organisations made general apologies in the course of this case study. However, applicants did say in evidence that a generic apology was not sufficient

The Inquiry was able to confirm over 50 convictions in respect of offences against children in foster care, but that record is incomplete.

There was also evidence of deaths in foster care not being properly investigated by the authorities, and that fatalities were accepted as accidents.

Evidence was heard in relation to three cases.

On 8th July 2022, Peter Kelbie told the Inquiry about the death of his sister Alexina in Foster Care in Dundee in November 1957.

Much later the findings of the post mortem were reviewed, and the view expressed that “it was difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of an explanation for the injury pattern and death of Alexina other than an assault”.

The result of that 2006 review was only communicated to Peter last year.

‘Anne’ told the Inquiry her sister had died in Foster Care in Fife in December 1959. It appeared there was no police investigation and the local authority had been satisfied with the explanation provided by the foster carer.

Even when Anne’s father asked questions, the local authority swiftly rebuffed him and continued to insist on a contribution from him to the upkeep of the children whilst they had been in foster care.

A brother of applicant ‘Claire’ died while in Foster Care in May 2001. Her social worker Ian Henderson told the Inquiry the death was initially explained to be an accident. However, that was later changed to be suicide – whilst in the care of someone who was later convicted of abusing Claire and her brothers.

In the absence of challenge from the family of vulnerable children, there was “perhaps an unwillingness to ‘think the unthinkable’.”

Lady Smith will now consider all the evidence and issue her findings as soon as practicable.