New children’s welfare law lodged for debate

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The draft Children and Young People Law, which has been submitted for States approval with the aim to ‘promote wellbeing and safeguard the welfare’ of children and young people, also places a duty on the Children’s and Education Minister to provide services to care leavers

It would create a framework and set out new arrangements, according to the government, which labelled it a ‘significant update’.

In 2017, the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry report found that the government had ‘failed to keep step’ with legislative developments elsewhere, including in the UK.

Now, Children’s and Education Minister Scott Wickenden has lodged draft legislation which, if approved, would see his ministry have a duty ‘to assess the needs of children with health or development needs, children in care and care leavers’. This includes a ‘virtual school head’ and a personal adviser for each care leaver up to the age of 25.

And the minister would also have a ‘general duty’ to provide a range and level of services appropriate to meet the assessed needs of these children and care leavers, according to a report accompanying the draft law.

Under the law, there would, if approved, also be a duty on safeguarding partners, which includes ‘chief officers of the administrations of the States’, to make arrangements for safeguarding and to review child deaths. This provision for the statutory review and analysis of child deaths puts the ‘current arrangements on a statutory footing’.

There is also expected to be a requirement for the minister to arrange independent advocacy for children with a health or development need, children in care and care leavers, and to establish a procedure for complaints and representation and the law also includes provision for a ‘gateway’ to early help, through arrangements for wellbeing assessments.

The absence of legislation underpinning preventative services ‘has contributed to interventions arriving too late and where they do happen, they are applied inconsistently’, Deputy Wickenden says in the proposition.

He adds: ‘An unclear legal requirement for assessment, care planning and services for children in care and for those leaving care has also meant that many children in care and leaving care have had poor experiences which has a major impact on their quality of life and opportunities.’

The draft law also ‘makes explicit the previously implicit understanding’ that when a child or young person comes to care, the government becomes their ‘corporate parent’.

The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry found that there was a ‘lack of paramountcy given to children which is reflected in poorly defined corporate parenting role for government and the wider public authorities’.

In England and Wales, the Children Act was introduced in 1989, establishing a legislative framework for the current child protection system there, with a raft of subsequent legislation aiming to boost child protection.

The government said legislation in Jersey included the 2002 Children Law, based closely on the 1989 Act in England and Wales.

The earliest the draft law will be debated is 18 January.

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