Following months of speculation that the Island could be preparing for a small intake of unaccompanied minors from Europe, Senator John Le Fondré met child refugee campaigner Lord Dubs, who has called on the Island to take in child refugees, during a visit to Jersey last week.
During States questions without notice on Tuesday, Deputy Kevin Pamplin asked the Chief Minister for an update on what was discussed.
Senator Le Fondré said that the meeting, which was held on Friday, was ‘very productive’ but added that Jersey’s children’s services were currently not fit to accommodate refugee children, who might have deep-rooted psychological issues.
‘The summary position is as follows. I have asked for a piece of work to be done and that was commissioned before Christmas,’ he said.
‘The practical reality, which I expanded [at the meeting], is we have to recall the very poor state of our children’s services and mental-health services. The issue we have at present, and this is what we are going to have to address, is that we know our children’s services are not presently in the right position to deal with even our own children properly, and that includes the ones with serious issues.
‘We are not yet in the state to deal with the potentially far more complicated issues that child refugees would bring with them, even though that might not sit well with us as individuals.’
He added that a timeframe would need to be put in place for developing the Island’s children’s services, including mental-health care, before consideration could be given to taking in refugee children.
‘We need to know how long that will take to get up to a good provision with the difficulties that our local children have,’ he said.
‘It is not just a case of money. It is about getting people in the right place, and giving stability, for example, to the social-worker workforce, so those relationships can carry on in the longer term. That is incredibly important.’
Deputy Pamplin asked the Chief Minister whether he would make a ‘firm commitment’ to Jersey accepting refugee children once the necessary issues had been resolved.
Senator Le Fondré said that the necessary issues would be addressed and some matters could be addressed ‘in the meantime’, which he would discuss privately with the Deputy.
‘I would rather not say now but there are some other things we could be doing as a minor improvement in our Island services that might facilitate the overall improvement that we need to achieve,’ he said.