Abuse inquiry: State tried to 'insulate' children in care

Lady Smith Image copyright Nick Mailer

Scotland's child abuse inquiry has heard the state had a "very judgmental" attitude towards children in poverty in the first half of the 20th Century.

Prof Kenneth Norrie was the first witness to give evidence in public at the hearing in Edinburgh.

He told how lawmakers had sought to "insulate" youngsters from poor backgrounds from negative influences.

He said "there was a very judgmental attitude towards children, even children in poverty" at the time.

More than 60 institutions, including several top private schools and church bodies, are being investigated.

The inquiry, which is being chaired by Lady Smith, is looking in detail at historical abuse of children in residential care.

It is expected to report in late 2019 - four years after it was set up.

Prof Norrie, of the University of Strathclyde's Law School, guided the hearing through developments in legislation surrounding children, juvenile offenders and child protection from the early to mid-20th Century.

'Bad influences'

He also spoke of the creation of institutions such as "voluntary homes", remand homes - for children awaiting trial or on short sentences - and borstals, designed to retrain and rehabilitate young offenders.

Giving an overview of the first four decades of the 20th Century, he said there was a "developing idea" among authorities that the law needed to "insulate" certain children from "bad influences".

His narrative came during questioning by Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry.

Prof Norrie said: "It's perceived that children are products of their environment, so the way to protect children is to protect them from their environment and that means removing them from their family.

"Actually in the early years of the 20th Century, this hardens.

"One of the really noticeable features of the regulation we've been looking at is what isn't there. What isn't there is any contact with parents. That's virtually absent.

"And indeed, as the years go by before the Second World War, it becomes almost official policy to discourage parental visits."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The inquiry heard local authorities once sought to restrict the influence of parents and the wider family on troubled children

The witness said authorities also sought to restrict the influence not just of parents, but the wider family, on certain children.

"You see with the boarding-out provisions that what the state was trying to do was create a new family for the children, a better family, putting it bluntly," he said.

"The whole idea was that a child would be insulated from the bad influences, they would have better, new role models to become productive members of society away from their original family."

He added that "there was a very judgmental attitude towards children, even children in poverty" at the time - a feeling that youngsters brought up in poverty would go on to become idle, just like their parents.

The opening session of the inquiry on Wednesday heard apologies from groups who said they "deplored that physical sexual abuses could occur".

They included Quarrier's, Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, Sisters of Nazareth, Good Shepherd Sisters, De La Salle Brothers and Christian Brothers.

The hearing continues.

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