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Thousands of children in care not told they had brothers and sisters, Sunday Herald 26/01/03

Investigation By Neil Mackay Sunday Herald 26/01/03

THOUSANDS of men and women raised in Scottish care homes have never been told they have brothers and sisters.

One care home, Quarriers in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, estimates that as many as 100,000 children in care between 1900 and 1980 were denied information about siblings. Tens of thousands of these former care home residents are still alive today. It was considered to be in the best interests of orphans and abandoned children not to tell them about their families. That practice has now been discredited and all children in care get full access to information about their families.

The scandal came to light following long-running investigations by the Sunday Herald into sexual abuse at a Quarriers home. One victim, Elizabeth McWilliams, now aged 65, recently requested her files and discovered she had an older brother and sister she had never been told about.

She also discovered that three of her cousins were also at Quarriers at the same time but she didn't know about them until she saw the file. Her twin brother was also at the home with her, but it wasn't until she was 12 that a teacher told her they were related.

McWilliams said: 'To deliberately separate me from my family is unforgivable. I should have been given this information when I left. They had no right to withhold these facts from me. I was sexually abused in the care of Quarriers and years later they're still managing to rape my mind.

'I've never been able to touch my brother and sister. I've never known them. We have no bond. I'm grieving for my past and all that I've lost.'

The scandal of these 'lost children' has been taken up by SIMP deputy leader Roseanna Cunningham who is calling for a major inquiry in Scotland. She compared the revelations to the suffering of British child emigrants sent to Australian care homes in the post-war years.

Many were sexually abused and never told they had families back in the UK. Australia eventually set up a senate investigation into the scandal.

Cathy Jamieson, the Scottish Executive's minister for children, said she knew about the Scottish scandal when she qualified as a social worker in 1983 but said she had 'mixed feelings' about an inquiry.

Quarriers’ spokesman Colin Adams said it was impossible to quantify how many children were involved.

'It could be literally 100,000 people in Scotland who don't know they have relatives,' he said. Adams added that it was impossible for Quarriers to 'devote a huge amount of time digging in the files'.

However, he did promise that any former resident who contacted Quarriers would be given their file and helped to locate their family.

Jamieson told the Sunday Herald that once the number of 'lost' children was identified, support and help could be given by the state to help reunite them with loved ones. She also pledged herself to upholding and preserving the rights of those affected to have full knowledge of their 'roots and history'.

Copyright © 2003 smg Sunday newspapers ltd. no.176088

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