Institutional child abuse investigations in nearly a quarter of councils

Article 39 has found that investigations into past abuse in council-run children’s homes are taking place in 24% of local authorities. We obtained the data through a freedom of information request to all English local authorities. Of 75 local authorities that answered the question, 18 were aware of investigations into past abuse in children’s homes or other residential establishments currently or formerly run by them.

The request was made as part of our research into child abuse and neglect occurring in children’s homes, residential schools, mental health inpatient units, prisons and other institutional settings. Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“It is heartening that so many adults are now coming forward to report childhood abuse. But organisations that run institutional settings today need to be sure that children are able to freely raise concerns and that abuse allegations against staff and managers are treated no less seriously than reports of mistreatment by family members.”

We included the finding in our submission last week to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is due to take evidence from UK officials next year. We make 30 proposals for improving the care and safety of children in institutional settings today, including a single contact number through which children can access local authority child protection teams, like the 101 police number, and a national review of safeguards for children living away from home, to ensure consistent rights protection.


  1. A freedom of information request was made to all 152 local authorities in England in May 2015. By the time of the UN submission on 01 July 2015, 118 local authorities had replied. Of these, 75 answered the question about investigations into past institutional child abuse in children’s homes and other establishments presently or formerly run by them. 18 local authorities said they were aware of such investigations in their area and 57 said they were not aware of any such investigations.
  2. Article 39 was officially formed in April 2015. Its Director is a registered social worker and longstanding children’s rights campaigner. Article 39 trustees have extensive experience in children’s law and advocacy, the care system, human rights and child and youth participation. Sir William Utting CB is our Patron. Former chief inspector of social services, Sir William was appointed in 1996 by the then Prime Minister, John Major, to undertake a review of safeguards for children living away from home amid revelations of widespread abuse in children’s homes over the preceding 20 years.
  3.  Article 39 takes its name from the part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which entitles children who have been abused, neglected or exploited to recover in environments where their health, self-respect and dignity is nurtured.
  4. The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in December 1991. One of its legal obligations is to provide periodic updates to the UN on the extent to which children’s rights are upheld across the country.
  5. The Convention on the Rights of the Child grants special protection and assistance to children deprived of their family environment.
  6. The submission to the United Nations can be downloaded here.