Enable children to talk and then listen to them – the only solution

“Cover-up is a British institutional tradition”

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Michael Driver, ©The Observer

4 December 2016 for The Observer: Breaking the silence is immensely powerful and it is good medicine. But speaking up is hard. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has data that suggests one out of three people abused as a child has not disclosed the abuse and that the average victim who does waits nearly eight years to do so. Many of the men coming forward now, encouraged by the testimony of ex-footballer Andy Woodward, had never spoken before of the events when they were children.

In the past couple of years I have read or heard the accounts of more than 700 men and women sexually and emotionally abused as children in boarding schools, state-run and private. They came to me after I wrote in the Observer of the abuse at my own, Ashdown House. The stories are the grimmest reading, but what is heartening is that for so many people the simple act of speaking up is hugely helpful.

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A chance to make it illegal to ignore child abuse

5 October 2014: Here’s my story in the Observer on the political push for “mandatory reporting”, which could help whistleblowers who uncover abuse in institutions, and make it a crime to cover it up. This “crucial” measure for tidying up the malfunctioning child protection system could – with some political will – become part of the current Serious Crimes Bill.

But currently government ministers have decided to kick the proposal into the long grass, by postponing any legislation until after the Woolf inquiry into institutional child abuse reports. Fiona Woolf and her colleagues have not yet published terms of reference, let alone begun hearing evidence and opinion. The process is likely to take two years or more.

“It is extraordinary,” says abuse survivor Tom Perry, “that child abuse is a crime, yet reporting it is entirely discretionary.” His campaign group Mandate Now is a good source of information on how mandatory reporting has worked in other countries – providing an answer to those like the NSPCC who say the proposal would swamp social services and the police with complaints.

Of course, the key question that follows that complaint is: does Britain want a child protection system that provides full safeguards for children, vulnerable adults and for the people who work caring for them – or one that admits we haven’t the resources to prevent abuse in institutions?

Full story in the Observer here – it was published alongside this piece by the Lib Dems’ former Home Affairs spokesperson, Baroness Walmsley – Children have a right to belief, not cover-up

Foodie’s angst: Are my kids food neurotics?

Alex Renton and family during lunch, Foulden, Berwick on Tweed. Tom Main for The Times

17th April, The Times

My kids want KFC. Where did I go wrong?

On the way to lunch at Giorgio Locatelli’s restaurant in London, we crossed Oxford Street. My son Adam, 11, trudging along grumpily at the prospect of a boring two hours in a posh restaurant, raised his nose. He sniffed the air, like a gourmet catching a whiff of bouillabaisse in a Marseilles back street. He sighed rapturously and said: “KFC! I just want to know what it tastes like. Imagine, I’m a child who has never even tried Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Read on here at Times Online