A SURVIVOR of the Church of England-run children’s home Kendall House has called for a fresh inquiry into its links with Kent social services and the Anglican priest who ran the department.
Teresa Cooper, whose campaigning led to compensation payouts and eventually an independent review by the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury, has unearthed documents that demonstrate a new connection between the social-services department of Kent County Council (KCC) and the girls-only children’s home in Gravesend.
The Revd Nick Stacey, who died earlier this year (News, 12 May), was director of Kent social services from 1974 to 1985, at the same time as staff at Kendall House were drugging, straitjacketing, and physically and sexually abusing vulnerable girls (News, 15 July 2016).
Earlier this year, an interview with Mr Stacey emerged in which he said that his policy was to never report staff accused of abuse to the police because children in care routinely lied (News, 7 July).
In a letter to Mrs Cooper in August, KCC said that it knew of no “direct link or relationship” between Kendall House and the former director of social services.
Mrs Cooper has since obtained a copy of a letter from March 1976, however, which suggests that Mr Stacey was directly involved in arranging the adoption of a baby born to a 14-year-old girl living in Kendall House. In the document, Mr Stacey asks the girl’s GP whether there is any history of hereditary medical conditions in the girl’s family which the child could inherit.
Between 1976 and 1986, KCC placed six teenage girls, between the ages of 13 and 16, at Kendall House, which was jointly overseen by the dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury.
Other files obtained by Mrs Cooper reveal that the girl’s social worker told superiors at the Kent social services about his concerns about Kendall House: in particular, the highly negative approach of its staff, and their reliance on drugging the girls to ensure compliance.
“I have long doubted the effectiveness of Kendall House as a treatment option,” the social worker wrote. “Throughout 1975, I became increasingly concerned about the attitude among the staff at Kendall House towards the children in their care.”
The staff used a lot of “negative conditioning”, which could be connected to their “religious philosophy”, he said. Some of them repeatedly referred to the children as “animals”. “I cannot remember any of the staff making a positive comment about this child throughout the whole of 1975.”
The superintendent who ran the home, Doris Law, at one point told the social worker that the 14-year-old girl had disclosed that she had been sexually abused by her father when a young child.
“With [the girl] sitting on Miss Law’s lap, the child had been encouraged to demonstrate how, apparently, she had been penetrated by her father,” he wrote in his report. Miss Law then took the girl to an Anglican church for her to receive “absolution”, he said.
The social worker also questions the appropriateness of the medication repeatedly given to the girl.
The documents reveal that, as soon as the Kendall House staff realised that she was pregnant, they stopped giving her drugs, some of which were noted as possibly causing medical problems for her unborn child.
“In view of [the girl]’s condition, and the drugs she was taking in very early pregnancy, this child may well be at risk physically,” one of the staff members had written.
“Because of [the girl]’s very poor physical condition, and her need for medication on her return to Kendall House at the beginning of last September, prognosis for the baby is uncertain,” Miss Law wrote in the files.
This report, and its conclusions on Kendall House, were sent to the senior research officer at KCC’s social-services department, Dr Roger Morgan, but there is no evidence that it was acted on. The abuses at Kendall House were finally revealed by a TV documentary in 1980.
The C of E’s review of Kendall House, which published in detail the trauma suffered by girls who lived there, looked only at the running of the home itself, and the part played by the Church, and did not enquire into links with Kent’s other social services or Mr Stacey.
Mrs Cooper said that the only way forward now was to reopen the independent review of Kendall House. “I did have my concerns about adoptions in the first place, and the Church of England refused to include it in the terms of reference.
“The review should have picked up on [Mr Stacey’s involvement]; it shouldn’t have been me who found out all this information now.”
A spokeswoman for the dioceses said that, after his interview came to light, church officials had looked in vain to see whether Mr Stacey, who had permission to officiate in the diocese of Canterbury, had ever visited Kendall House or been implicated in the scandal.
“These documents appear to highlight precisely what was made clear in the Kendall House review: that the level of care offered to residents was severely lacking,” a statement from the dioceses said.
“We are truly sorry that former residents were hurt and damaged by the actions of people at Kendall House who should have been providing them with a nurturing environment, care, and support. The dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury have fully accepted the recommendations of the review, and have already made significant progress in responding to those recommendations.”
A spokesman for KCC said: “We have every sympathy for Mrs Cooper because of the abuse she undoubtedly suffered at Kendall House. However, this was a Church of England, rather than KCC, establishment and Mrs Cooper was placed there by another local authority. We have assisted the inquiry team as thoroughly as we have been able and will continue to do so. We are also committed to following up any new information about historic abuse that may come to our attention.”