Whenever there are serious problems with social services, the person appointed to conduct an inquiry is likely to be a judge or a senior lawyer. The assumption is that a judicial knowledge of process, integrity and skilled handling are the most appropriate background for the task. That is why Baroness Butler-Sloss, who conducted the Cleveland inquiry on child sex abuse, has been appointed to conduct a overarching review of historic abuse now.
There were deep flaws in the Cleveland Inquiry. It wasn’t as bad as the Clyde Inquiry into Orkney, but those inquiries shared three common problems. The first was a failure to consider the children’s best interests. The Cleveland inquiry set that question aside; the Clyde inquiry demanded, quite inappropriately, a standard of evidence equivalent to criminal proof, instead of considering the risk to the children. (The situation in Orkney may or may not have been what was alleged – some of the things said after the children went into care were certainly enough to raise suspicion – but it is now clear that there was serious abuse in at least one family.) The second was that, despite the requirement to look at the response made by services, the judges did not really understand the process that people in child protection were engaged in. For example, the Cleveland inquiry seemed to think that the doctors should just stop making diagnoses when a quota was reached and it never got to grips with the question why these cases were being referred all at once. The Clyde inquiry held that no action could be taken for which there was not conclusive proof. The third problem was the absence of the children’s voices. I took the ringing quote in the title of this entry from a documentary about the misrepresentation of the issues in Cleveland.