Many staff in residential care are now "debilitated by their own anxiety" that children will accuse them of physical or sexual abuse, Meg Lindsay, director of the Centre for Residential Child Care in Glasgow, told social work directors in Aviemore last week.
Ms Lindsay said this often led to avoidance of "any kind of human contact". Yet all children needed to be touched or hugged, and this group of young people were desperately needy.
"We need to ask, how can we reduce risks from the community? And how can we build positive links with the community? This is often done when a unit opens, but I am not sure how much work is done after that," she said.
Young people were more likely to be abused by their own peers than by residential staff.