Forgotten Children (2000)

The Secret Abuse Scandal in Children’s Homes
– Vision Paperback, 2000
– ISBN: 1901250474
– Pages: 276

“There isn’t a photo of me before I was 14. It’s as if I didn’t exist. Children in children’s homes are suffering from trauma, from shock… They are used to the unexpected and sexual abuse is unexpected.” ‘John’.

In the 1960s and 1970s, children’s departments were abolished and social workers all became generalists who had clients across the spectrum of need. As a result, thousands more children were taken into care by local authorities and many of them were put into children’s homes. Disaster ensued, with a high proportion of them being abused and mistreated by those charged with looking after them. The legacy of this disaster is still being felt; major police investigations have been launched across the country and many are ongoing.

Why did it happen? Despite several official investigations, none have attempted to explain the underlying causes of institutional abuse and offered a coherent explanation of what happened. Forgotten Children is the ground-breaking first book to aim to do so.

Forgotten Children charts the history of children’s homes, how they were neglected over the years and, with untrained and sometimes unsuitable staff, why they became preying grounds for paedophiles. Many institutions thought it in the best interests of the children to keep their parents at bay, forbidding letter writing and visits. So there was no one to turn to.It also shows how changes in social services provision in the 1970s helped to create the disaster.

It looks, too, at the widespread abuse which took place in homes run by religious orders and gives a previously unheard voice to many of the victims. The book then also follows the children’s claims for compensation, the issues over false claims of abuse and suggests ways to prevent a reoccurrence of the scandal.

Author Christian Wolmar analyses the roles of the institutions which ‘allowed’ this scandal to sweep the country: local authorities and charities that let abuse go unchecked in their homes; central government, which failed to heed the warning signs; the police who initially ignored all complaints; the social workers who did not listen to the children.

The legacy of these scandals reaches beyond their immediate victims, many of whom are too traumatised to lead functional lives or have even committed suicide; prisons are full of the former residents of children’s homes whose crimes have, in turn, created a raft of new victims.

Forgotten Children includes interviews with victims, care workers, lawyers and police, presenting a gripping critique of children’s care in the 1970s and 1980s and shedding light on the underlying causes of institutional abuse.

Christian Wolmar’s book is sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which publishes research into social issues. After writing Forgotten Children, Christian submitted evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill.


What they said about Forgotten Children…

‘Forgotten Children is the standard work on the child-abuse scandals of the Nineties’
The Observer

‘This remarkable book is a tribute to the honesty of the author.’
The Catholic Herald

‘A fascinating study of institutional child abuse.’
Julie Bindel, The Guardian

‘If you are in any way affected by child sexual abuse, this book is a must read. Absolute essential reading. The truth as it is and was.’
Shy Keenan, Phoenix Survivors

‘Essential background reading’,
Peter Garsden, Family Law Journal

‘As the journalist Christian Wolmar makes clear … the magnitude of this scandal has never really been confronted, not by the courts, the press, nor the public. And despite all the inquiries and prosecutions that have occurred in the past few years, it would be pretty implausible to suggest that kids in care homes are just fine now, no abuse still goes on, children are still disbelieved, support is still patchy and prosecutions too few and far between.’
The Independent

‘The horror and sheer cruelty of institutional child abuse are well described, and rightly connected to our attitudes towards children in general. The history of children’s homes, from the workhouse to the present day, and the influences of politics, religion, legislation and the Poor Laws are particularly interesting, showing up the coercive nature of child care and the very uncomfortable parallels between past and present. Wolmar argues passionately for the humane treatment of children, cataloguing both the personal and societal consequences of neglect and cruelty… Any work that furthers knowledge of child abuse is welcome… Wolmar admits his is ‘an outsider’s view’. Outsiders, however, often have the clearer vision.’
Community Care

‘The book is a welcome investigation into the abuse of children in residential care. It brings together previously scattered information about police investigations around Britain into allegations of sexual and other abuse of children in residential care… It is by a well informed journalist, well written, and made interesting and readable.’
Ebay customer review

‘Personally, I found the accounts of serial offenders who got away with their evil acts year after year the most distressing aspect of this book. Society put these children out of their sight with no intention to check that they were alright. Anyone could get a job in a children’s home; nobody thought it worthwhile to check their credentials; and nobody heard the children’s cries for help.’
Frank Golding, CLAN member, Australia