Kendall House, Kent
Teresa Cooper’s website contains news and articles about Kendall House children’s home.
Teresa’s research revealed that psychiatric drugs were linked to teenage girls’ birth defects.
By Angus Stickler Today programme
The physical, sexual and emotional abuse in children’s homes through the 1970s and 1980s is well documented.
Every single day I wanted to die and because I couldn’t die I’d cut myself upTeresa CooperSedation ‘link to birth defects’
But it is possible that hundreds of women, who were in care homes across the UK in that period, have handed down a more devastating legacy to their own children.
A group of former residents of a children’s home, run by the Church of England, in Kent have revealed that the girls were given massive doses of tranquilisers.
Now those girls have gone on to have children of their own; children who were born with a range of birth defects.
Teresa Cooper was one of those girls. She arrived at Kendall House in Kent at the age of 14. Over the 32 months she was there, she was given medication at least 1,248 times – cocktails of 11 different drugs.
She says of her arrival: “I didn’t want to go in. I knew something was wrong. There was bars on the window.
“The first thing that they did in the morning when we woke up is that, we went downstairs and they made me line up for tablets.
Kendall House in Kent is no longer a children’s home
“Nobody told me what they were, what they were for – they just told me that it was for my own good. I remember, one of the girls, the first thing she said to me is that I had better take the tablets and not argue it.”
Teresa also recounts being held down by up to six members of staff in order to be sedated.
But she had no mental illness – her “problems” were according to reports “caused wholly by very difficult home circumstances”. Rather than being placed in a recommended boarding school, she was placed at Kendall House.
The Home Office consultant psychiatrist in charge, Dr Perinpanyagam, has said in the past that the drugs used by the staff at the home were safe and did not have side effects.
Dr Perinpanyagam has since died.
However, evidence shows the girls were, for years, given drugs which had been strongly criticised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Teresa, for instance, was given major tranquillisers: Haloperidol, Droleptan and Depixol. She was also given valium, diazepam up to 10 times the current recommended dose and Sparine, another major tranquilliser.
Jeffrey Aronson, professor of clinical pharmacology at Oxford University, says he has not seen a situation to compare and that the amounts and types of drugs given to Teresa were “unacceptable”.
Changes in genes and chromosomes induced by drugs may lead to birth defects or abnormalities later in lifeProfessor Jeffrey Aronson
“That would act as what people used to call a chemical cosh if you like – a cosh – something that knocks you out…this girl is being given large amounts of drugs that act on the brain in many different ways.
“Even in the 1980s, for a 14-year-old girl, with no history of psychiatric illness whatsoever, who is in a home for social reasons, to be given large doses of many different psychoactive drugs in this way is very, very unusual.”
Teresa says the effect on her was devastating. “Every single day I wanted to die and because I couldn’t die I’d cut myself up,” she says.
“I’d break pens, I’d break anything that could cut, anything, if I could pull a nail out of the bed or do something – I’d use that – I’d slice myself up.
“Because I didn’t feel the pain really – you don’t feel the pain – you’re so drugged you don’t feel it. You just know that when you’re doing it there’s some sort of relief – because you can physically see that you’re bleeding and that’s your pain coming out.”
Teresa left Kendal House in 1984 at the age of 16 – and went on to have a family.
Sarah Cooper was born with a small jaw and a cleft palate
New evidence suggests that the drugs the girls were given may have caused genetic damage, which was passed on to their children in the form of birth defects.
Teresa has had three children: her eldest son was born with respiratory problems, her second born blind with learning difficulties.
Her third, Sarah, is now 16, and has been in and out of hospital all her life. She was born with a small jaw, known as Pierre Robin Syndrome, and a cleft palate.
Teresa says: “I had literally just given birth [to Sarah] and all of a sudden all these doctors appeared from nowhere – and nobody would talk to me.
“You know, they were all just rushing around my baby – which was fine – I didn’t hear her cry – I actually thought she was dead at first and they took her off and took her to intensive care.”
The trauma of her childhood has affected Teresa. “I tried to commit suicide and I put myself in intensive care and my daughter went to the hospital with me. She watched them try and resuscitate me and I hated myself for it…because I saw what it done to her.”
Teresa decided to track down other girls from Kendall House to see if they were having similar problems.
She found that 10 of the girls had gone on to have children with birth defects. Those girls were all given drugs. Two girls she contacted who were not drugged had children without birth defects.
Using drugs to control the behaviour of children was perfectly acceptable as far as their own professional understanding at that time wentMike Lindsay, children’s rights advisor
“I noticed that they started having birth defects such as brain tumours – hydrocephalus, learning difficulties – and it wasn’t with one or two girls – it’s like four, five six and the numbers start going up.
“We were young girls – we were going through puberty as well – and I do believe those drugs did something and they affected us.
“If it’s happening to us there could be others out there it’s happening to. We don’t know whether it’s because we were so severely overdosed or whether it is just a normal problem if you give that to a teenage girl for example.”
Prof Aronson looked at the range and number of drugs Teresa was given and said that there is evidence that the drugs could have caused birth defects in her children.
“Changes in genes and chromosomes induced by drugs may lead to birth defects or abnormalities later in life,” he says.
“But the fact that there were 10 of them affected in this is quite suggestive.”
The Church of England has issued a statement which said that it could not comment on individual circumstances.
“However, if the police, social services or appropriate legal body initiates an investigation, the Diocese [of Rochester] will cooperate fully with them,” the statement says.
“It would be inappropriate for the Diocese to initiate any internal enquiries since we are not qualified to do this. In any event, it would be essential for any investigation to be conducted both professionally and impartially.”
In all, the BBC investigation identified six other children’s homes using drugs. Tracking them down is more difficult – the records simply do not exist.
Mike Lindsay, chief adviser at the office of the Children’s Rights Director based in Ofsted, is currently on secondment as national co-ordinator for the Children’s Rights Alliance, England.
He worked in an assessment centre in south London in the early 1980s.
He confirms that there could be hundreds of children in care whose behaviour was controlled with the use of drugs.
“Using drugs to control the behaviour of children was perfectly acceptable as far as their own professional understanding at that time went,” he says.
“I think there was a lot of it going on.”
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BBC Radio 4, 07/04/09
Women say they were abused in children’s home
DCSF resists calls for inquiry into Kendall House case
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has resisted calls for a public inquiry into the alleged abuse of girls placed in a church-run children’s home in the 1980s, which was first exposed by Community Care more than a year ago.Sally GillenThursday 09 April 2009 11:33
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has resisted calls for a public inquiry into the alleged abuse of girls placed in a church-run children’s home in the 1980s, which was first exposed by Community Care more than a year ago.
Evidence, including a TV documentary in 1980, indicates that looked-after children were heavily drugged and may have been sexually abused at Kendall House, in Gravesend, Kent.The Church of England, which ran the home, told Community Care in December 2007 that it would not investigate abuse allegations.
Former resident Teresa Cooper (pictured, right), who was placed in the home in the early 1980s, has campaigned for an inquiry. Her files show she was drugged daily and a letter sent to Cooper’s GP, accompanying an anal swab taken by staff at the home, says it is “likely she has been sexually abused”.
However, a DCSF spokesperson said the government had already commissioned two major reviews into historical abuse in children’s homes – William Utting’s 1997 People Like Us report and Ronald Waterhouse’s 1999 Lost in Care study into abuse in North Wales homes.
These led to the changes to the regulatory framework under the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001, including standards on the control and issuing of medicines.
The spokesperson added: “The two previous inquiries did not suggest that inappropriate use of drugs was a more widespread problem beyond Kendall House. Tighter controls have been put in place, which address all the issues raised by Kendall House. We cannot therefore see the merits of commissinoing a further inquiry at this point.”
Community Care has spoken to two other women about their experiences of being placed in the home.
Amanda*, now a mother of four, was a 12-year-old runaway when she was sent to Kendall House in 1983. She had been from home to home and had a history of absconding.
“It was difficult to keep me anywhere. They just wanted to keep me somewhere secure and Kendall House was the only place that would accept me. I was there three weeks before they started drugging me and it was to shut me up. I never met Dr Peri (the home’s psychiatrist) but he said I needed to be completely sedated for two weeks to stop me being loud. I remember Teresa. I hardly saw her because she was in the sick bay. She was there for a very long time. I remember her because she used to shuffle around, rather than walk, and she used to slur. When I met her again last year I couldn’t believe how alive she was. I would be given pills at morning, lunch and dinner, as well as the injections, whenever they felt like it.
“We were allowed to write letters but the staff used to read them so I managed to smuggle one out to my mum and stepdad saying I was being drugged and given injections. They went to Kendall House but they were told I was a tearaway and they told a lot of lies about me. They convinced my mum and dad that they needed to do what they were doing and they weren’t bothered. It’s not as if they wanted me home.”
Another woman, who does not want to be named, says: “It was a hell hole. I was there for 18 months and I was 13 when I went in. I did not understand why I was given drugs. Girls who were bullies didn’t get them. It was a select few. After 18 months I went back to foster care and I was given a supply of drugs. My doctor said it was a large dose, which you would give to a man. I was given drugs three or four times a day some days, then other times it would be once a day – tablets and liquids. The drugs made you feel ill. I was walking around like an idiot.”
National media coverage
This week, the Today programme and Newsnight ran a story claiming that the huge quantities of drugs given to the girls may have led them to have children with birth defects.
Jeffrey Aronson, professor of clinical pharmacology at Oxford University, told the BBC said that the amounts of drugs given to Cooper was unacceptable. He added that there was evidence that the drugs could have caused birth defects in Cooper’s three children. Her eldest child was born with respiratory difficulties, her second was born blind with learning disabilities and her youngest with a cleft palate.
The Church of England did not offer anyone for interview on Newsnight, but gave a statement saying it would co-operate if an investigation was required.
The Care Leavers Association said it was seeking an urgent meeting with Church of England to call for a “full and comprehensive inquiry.”
CLA chair Will McMahon said a number of care leavers had repeatedly raised concerns about the use of drugs in the care system and urged the Church to allow independent access to its records.
“The leadership of the Church of England needs to explain what it knew and when, and what steps it took in response,” he said.