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Education

Abuse allegations: ‘Complaints were ignored’

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Rhydgors

Rhydygors School now: Allegations cover 1976-86.

THE POLICE investigation into allegations of the physical and sexual abuse of children at Rhydygors and Cartref Y Gelli has come as no surprise to those who attended those institutions from 1976 to 1986.

In the period covered by the present investigation, Rhydygors acted as a residential special school intended to provide support to children with behavioural, social and emotional problems drawn from the former Dyfed LEA area. However, one former pupil, who cannot be named, told The Herald that allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the facility were rife over thirty years ago.

The former pupil told The Herald: “This is nothing new. This sort of thing [i.e. both physical and sexual abuse of children] was widely known to take place. Complaints were made at the time, but the way in which Rhydygors was used as a dumping ground for kids like us meant that our stories were ignored as just being made up stories.”

Dyfed Powys Police has released a statement in connection with the most recent investigation, named Operation Almond.

That statement reads: ‘Operation Almond is a Dyfed-Powys Police investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at Rhydygors School in Carmarthen, during the years spanning 1976 to 1986’.

This operation focusses on allegations made in 2000, and also in 2012.

In relation to the 2000 allegations, these were fully investigated at the time and referred to the Crown Prosecution Service; however no criminal proceedings were instigated at that time.

In 2012, further allegations were made, which include a report of abuse at a care home, namely Cartref-y-Gelli in Carmarthen between 1986 and 1990.

It is important to note that all allegations made concern members of staff who no longer work at Rhydygors School, and Cartref-y-Gelli care home has been closed for a number of years.

Following an initial assessment of allegations received in 2012, and following consultation with the CPS, a new criminal investigation commenced with the remit to investigate all allegations made in 2012, and to also encompass previous allegations made.

Under Operation Almond, a dedicated team of specialist investigators has been set-up to ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken into the allegations made, and also to ensure that support is provided for the victims who have already been identified, which is currently in excess of 20.

Six people have been arrested as part of the investigation and interviews with other identified suspects are planned in due course. The investigation is on-going.

Dyfed Powys Police are working closely with partner agencies as part of this investigation and the safety, welfare and protection of vulnerable people remain an absolute priority of all the organisations involved.

The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council to provide the following information:

When the council first became aware of the Police Investigation which has led to 6 arrests, thus far;

  • What contact the council has had with the police in relation to both the current investigation and the previous investigation from 2000;
  • Whether the council’s insurers have provided advice to the council in relation to both the ongoing investigation and the 2000 investigation,
  • Whether any other allegations have been made to the council regarding child abuse at either Rhydygors or Cartref Y Gelli independently of the Police investigations detailed above investigations and, if so, whether the council’s insurers were involved in advising the council in relation to those independent allegations
  • The arrests made to date have been announced as being former members of staff at either Rhydygors or Cartref Y Gelli. Are any of those arrested currently employed by Carmarthenshire County Council?

A council statement said: “An investigation is being carried out by Dyfed Powys Police into allegations of abuse by previous members of staff at Rhydygors Special School between 1976 and 1986. The staff members concerned no longer work at Rhydygors School, and have not done so for some considerable time. Carmarthenshire County Council is working closely with Dyfed-Powys Police to fully investigate the allegations. As this is a legal matter, it is not possible to give any further information at this

 

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Education

Successful first week back for Carmarthenshire schoolchildren

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MORE than 10,000 children have checked in to Carmarthenshire schools so far.

This includes 6,144 primary school children and 4,226 secondary school pupils, according to council figures for last week.

Some pupils have attended school more than once – with the total number of check-ins for last week exceeding 14,000.

There are approximately 28,000 pupils registered in Carmarthenshire schools and these figures show around 38% of pupils attended school last week.

All pupils are being given the opportunity to check in, catch up and prepare before the summer holidays and the new school year in September.

Schools across the county have reported that both staff and pupils have been happy to return, and that safety measures that had been put in place have been a success.

Children have been split into smaller groups and schools are operating staggered break times, and start and finish times. There are also separate entrances and exits, and one-way systems where possible to help with social distancing.

High touch surfaces are being cleaned regularly throughout the school day, with a full clean taking place every evening. There are hand-sanitisers in every classroom and portable handwashing stations where needed.

Children are being encouraged to safely walk, cycle or scoot to school, or for parents to provide transport, as school transport is operating at a limited capacity.

School meals are not being provided this term and pupils who are in school for a full day are being asked to bring in a packed lunch.

Headteacher of Llangunnor Primary School Aled Davies said: “Being able to greet pupils back this week has been exciting. Seeing them smile and as they saw their friends and staff was wonderful. It has been a strange time for us all and the school building looks rather different than it did three months ago, I would like to thank the staff for their hard work and dedication in preparing the school.

“I think we were all, children, parents and staff, a bit apprehensive on Monday but the new measures and routines have worked successfully and has allowed us to welcome the children back in a safe and organised manner. The atmosphere during the week has been welcoming and comfortable with all the children eager to share their stories and experiences and having a lovely day.

“A very high percentage of our families have decided to send their children back and we have been able to fulfil the Welsh Government’s aspiration that all statutory age pupils have an opportunity to return for three sessions in school before the summer break.”

Headteacher of Ysgol Dyffryn Taf in Whitland Julian Kennedy said: “The return of pupils to Dyffryn Taf has been a great experience. Staff and pupils have been delighted to see each other again.

“Everyone has worked incredibly hard to build a safe, inclusive and positive learning environment, all whilst maintaining a distance learning programme.

“Pupils have been able to check in with form tutors, get reassurance and advice, and make sure they are ready for whatever September might bring.

“Most importantly though, we have given staff the freedom to be creative and to try new things. Our pupils have been learning on screens for three months now – when they are on site, we want them to do something different. So, as well as maintaining their literacy, numeracy and wellbeing, pupils have been out in the fresh air orienteering, playing team-building games or simply building up their skills and fitness on Just Dance!

“Attendance has been really pleasing and everyone, both staff and pupils, have left with a smile on their faces. We very much hope we can devote one or two days at the start of the new academic year to finish the transition programme for Year 6 pupils that we were unable to complete this summer.

“The Governing body, staff, pupils and their families and the local authority have combined excellently to achieve a huge amount in a short space of time. We all want to get back to normal as soon as it is safe to do so, but until then we are delighted with how the ‘new normal’ is going.”

Children that are shielding or are living with someone in this group should not come back this term and should continue learning at home.

Parents who choose not to send their children back will not be fined and will also continue to receive support with home learning.

Term finishes on July 17.

Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I am delighted that pupils and staff have had such a great first week back at school. I think it is really important that they have had this opportunity to catch up before the summer holidays.

“I visited Ysgol Brynaman and it was wonderful to see how pleased the children were to be back seeing their friends and teachers for the first time in over three months.

“We have already started to plan for September and as soon as we have further guidance from Welsh Government, we will be able to share these details with parents.”

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Education

Back to school song competition

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CALLING all budding Ed Sheeran’s and Ariana Grande’s – it’s time to put your songwriting skills to the test!

Council leader and composer Cllr Emlyn Dole has written a song especially to welcome children back to school following the coronavirus pandemic.

Mynd ‘nôl i’r Ysgol is about the excitement of going back to school to catch up with teachers and friends, and all the fun the children will have when they are there.

The song has been recorded by popular Welsh singer Gwenda Owen from Pontyberem, who is also Cllr Dole’s wife.

Cllr Dole is asking Carmarthenshire primary school pupils for their help to finish it by writing another verse.

The winning pupils will have the opportunity to sing and record the song in a studio with Gwenda at the start of the new school year in September.

Cllr Dole said: “It has been a difficult time for everyone over the last few months, but particularly for our children who have been home from school and missing their friends and teachers.

“We wanted to celebrate their return to school, and I wrote this song to welcome them back and everything they have to look forward to.

“It wasn’t our intention to turn it into a competition at first, but then we had the idea to challenge our primary schools to write another verse.

“I am really excited to see what the children come up with and I would like to wish everyone the best of luck, but most importantly to please just have fun.”

Information on how to enter the competition has been sent to all primary schools in Carmarthenshire. The deadline for entries is Friday, July 17 and the winner will be announced at the start of the autumn term.

Video link: https://vimeo.com/434292752

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Education

Adoption worker’s back to school story

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RACHEL Cook has always wanted to write a children’s story.

But she has never been able to find the time to sit down and do it.

And then the coronavirus pandemic happened – which gave her some free time and also the inspiration too.

Rachel, who works for Carmarthenshire County Council as an adoption support worker, used her time during lockdown to write and illustrate Sammy Sloth Goes Back to School.

The story will hopefully help children who are feeling anxious about going back to school after being home for so long.

Rachel, aged 36, who has always worked with vulnerable children and children with additional learning needs, said: “I have always enjoyed being creative and have dreamed of writing short children’s stories and illustrating them for a long time.

“I never imagined that the first story I would write would be about a pandemic, but in times of so much change and uncertainty I found myself thinking of the many children I’ve supported over the years through transitions and how challenging this would be for so many.

“Children often find change particularly challenging, and with the changes approaching us as we begin to return to school, with it may come a mix of emotions and feelings. Stories are a natural way for children to learn about their feelings, to help them learn that their experiences of feeling worried or nervous about returning to school are faced by many.

“This story focuses on the familiar, particularly around relationships, as sometimes feelings of anxiety come from the unknown, and while we may not know everything about what school will look like in the coming months, by thinking of some of the things that will be staying the same, we can help our children feel more secure.”

The council’s translation team has translated the story into Welsh, and the council has arranged to print copies to put into the county’s primary schools.

Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “This is a wonderful story which I am sure will help a lot of children feeling uncertain about returning to school.

“I would like to both congratulate and thank Rachel; I am delighted that the book will be going into our primary schools for pupils to enjoy.”

The story is also available on the council website carmarthenshire.gov.wales/education for parents to download and read with their children.

Video link: https://vimeo.com/432814176

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