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Confidants for kids a priority after Kerelaw abuse scandal

YOUNGSTERS IN residential units should have regular contact with a trusted adult from the outside world if a repeat of the "horrifying" catalogue of incidents at an Ayrshire school is to be avoided, says Scotland's Commissioner for Children.

Kathleen Marshall was responding to a report which found that 40 workers at Kerelaw School - some of whom may still be working in the care sector - had been directly involved in the physical or sexual abuse of youngsters.

Mrs Marshall was struck by the "very strong and insular culture" of the school that emerged from the report by Glasgow City Council, the authority responsible for Kerelaw until it was closed last year. Not only did children suffer from minimal contact with the outside world, but staff who witnessed abuse lacked the confidence to report their concerns.

"We have to make sure that each young person has someone they relate to - they won't say anything unless they've been taken seriously," she said.

There should be someone for each child who could provide "strong and suitable external advice, someone that young people really know and trust".

She added: "The other thing is to give staff the confidence to speak out. One of the horrifying things is that a lot of Kerelaw staff knew what was going on. Maybe the adults, too, need to have an external person they can really get to know."

Mrs Marshall was unsure about the merits of an independent inquiry, as she has yet to be convinced that it would shed any new light. There is, nevertheless, an increasing demand for such an investigation.

Glasgow City Council has called on the Care Commission to investigate the standard of care at Kerelaw. And Unison, the public-sector union, is asking the council to make the claims in its report more specific and believes an independent inquiry is necessary.

Meanwhile, Robert Forrest, head of Kerelaw from 1981 to 1995, argued this week that an inquiry was needed to find out why the management of the school declined so rapidly after Glasgow City Council took it over.

The city council said last week that, following its investigation, 14 members of staff had been dismissed and a number of others disciplined, while other names were referred to the Scottish Executive under the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act.

A number of former Kerelaw pupils may receive out-of-court settlements from insurers acting on behalf of the defunct Strathclyde regional council, which ran Kerelaw before local government reorganisation in the mid-1990s.

Most victims were abused by former Kerelaw staff members Matt George and John Muldoon, jailed last year for 10 years and two-and-a-half years respectively.

Letters, p20

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