A TRUTH and reconciliation body will be set up to "publicly acknowledge" the abuse inflicted upon thousands of children in residential homes in Scotland, the Scottish Government has announced.
The move could see the perpetrators of abuse being brought face to face with their victims, in many cases several decades after the offences occurred.
It could also result in formal apologies from the Catholic Church, Quarriers, local authorities and other groups which ran children's homes at the centre of Scotland's abuse scandals – and promises to lift the lid on the full extent of the atrocities.
However, the concept of a truth and reconciliation forum is also a tacit admission that many abusers will never be brought to justice – a fact that enrages many who still bear the psychological scars of their abuse.
A consultation will be held over the detail of the project, led by Shona Robison, the public health minister, with officials set to examine the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, as well as other schemes in New Zealand and Northern Ireland.
Announcing the plan, Adam Ingram, the children's minister, said: "None of us should forget the physical, emotional and sexual abuse that has taken place in Scotland's residential care homes, perpetrated by the very people who should have been providing support. It would be inexcusable for us not to confront what happened. It's time for us to demonstrate our commitment through actions."
Ms Robison added: "The move towards a Scottish truth and reconciliation forum will benefit victims of historical abuse by providing them with a platform to voice their experiences whilst giving public acknowledgement to what happened.
"For many (abuse] survivors, an acknowledgement of the abuse they suffered would be more beneficial than monetary compensation."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the scheme could lead to reports being published into the extent of abuse in children's homes, although individuals' identities would be kept secret.
The administration also announced a national "hub" service to assist victims in accessing help such as psychiatric services, better training for residential child-care staff and a review of the law to address shortcomings in public records held on children in care.
The move follows a review of historical abuse of children in residential care by independent expert Tom Shaw, a former chief inspector of education in Northern Ireland. The report was triggered in 2004 when the then First Minister, Jack McConnell, publicly apologised to children who were abused while in care.
But hundreds of victims from residential schools and homes such as Nazareth House, Quarriers, Kerelaw and De La Salle have been unable to come to terms with the physical, psychological and sexual abuse they suffered and are angry at the lack of public acknowledgment and concern for their suffering.
With abuse dating back, in some cases, as far as the 1930s, relatively few people involved have been prosecuted, while evidence is often difficult to corroborate.
Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's children's commissioner, said: "Most people desperately want to be heard. They want an apology. This could provide that opportunity."
'Now it's time for us to be heard'
ELIZABETH McWilliam no longer wants to hide in the shadows, struggling on her own to cope with abuse she describes as "atrocities".
"We've been the silent minority. Now it's time for us to be heard," says the 70-year-old, one of hundreds of children abused by staff at Quarriers homes in Scotland in a period spanning decades. She says that she "just wants the truth". But reconciliation is another thing.
"I will never forgive and forget. The government must make these people face up to what they've done."
But she says a truth and reconciliation forum could help Scotland to move on from the shame of its past. "This is a new dawn, a new horizon for children in care now," she says. "We've got to look forward to the future."
However, Adeline Spence, 45, from Glasgow, is less convinced.
Ms Spence, who was abused by nuns at Nazareth House children's home in Cardonald, said: "I don't know what difference it will make. These people need to be taken to court."
'OUR NATIONAL SHAME'
THE abuse inflicted on children in residential care was described four years ago as Scotland's "national shame" by the then First Minister, Jack McConnell.
Adam Ingram, the children's minister, has already announced an inquiry into allegations of – and convictions for – child abuse at Kerelaw, a residential school and secure unit in Ayrshire that sparked Scotland's biggest child abuse investigation before it closed in 2005. However, that was just the latest in a succession of abuse scandals in residential institutions for children.
The list has grown in recent years. It includes: Larchgrove, a council-run children's home in Glasgow; Blairs College, a seminary in Aberdeen; St Ninian's, a school run by monks, the De La Salle Brothers, in Gartmore, Stirlingshire; and Nazareth House, a chain of Catholic children's homes.