Authorities Acted To 'Insulate' Vulnerable Children, Abuse Inquiry Told

1 June 2017, 14:39 | Updated: 1 June 2017, 14:42

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chair

Scotland's child abuse inquiry has heard the state had a ''very judgmental'' attitude towards children in poverty in the first half of the 20th century.

An expert witness told how lawmakers sought to ''insulate'' youngsters from poor or criminal backgrounds from negative influences in order for them to become productive members of society.

This could result in them being removed from their families, with little contact with their parents, the inquiry heard.

Professor Kenneth Norrie, of the University of Strathclyde's Law School, was the first witness to give evidence in public at the inquiry in Edinburgh.

The far-reaching probe got under way on Wednesday with a series of opening statements from a variety of organisations.

More than 60 residential institutions, including several top private schools, are being investigated by the inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith.

During questioning by Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, Prof Norrie guided the hearing through developments in legislation surrounding children, juvenile offenders and child protection from the early to mid-20th century.

He also spoke of the creation of institutions such as ''voluntary homes'', remand homes - for children awaiting trial or on short sentences - and borstals, designed to retrain and rehabilitate young offenders.

Giving an overview of the first four decades of the 20th century, he said there was a ''developing idea'' among authorities that the law needed to ''insulate'' certain children from ''bad influences''.

Prof Norrie said: ''It's perceived that children are products of their environment, so the way to protect children is to protect them from their environment and that means removing them from their family.

''Actually in the early years of the 20th century, this hardens.

''One of the really noticeable features of the regulation we've been looking at is what isn't there. What isn't there is any contact with parents. That's virtually absent.

''And indeed, as the years go by before the Second World War, it becomes almost official policy to discourage parental visits.''

The witness said authorities also sought to restrict the influence not just of parents, but the wider family, on certain children.

''You see with the boarding-out provisions that what the state was trying to do was create a new family for the children, a better family, putting it bluntly,'' he said.

''The whole idea was that a child would be insulated from the bad influences, they would have better, new role models to become productive members of society away from their original family.''

He added that ''there was a very judgmental attitude towards children, even children in poverty'' at the time - a feeling that youngsters brought up in poverty would go on to become idle, just like their parents.