Improvements in state child care ‘have not progressed’

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CHILDREN are still being failed because the previous government lacked the commitment to address several of the concerns raised in the damning Independent Jersey Care Inquiry report, one of its panel members has claimed.

Professor Sandy Cameron said that many of the issues highlighted in the 2017 report – including the continued use of Greenfields secure unit and the recruitment and retention of staff – were still a problem today. He said that housing, the cost of living and investment in services continued to have an impact on staffing levels and called on the new government to take steps to address those issues.

Five years ago, the inquiry delivered its highly critical report on the Island’s care system dating back to 1945 and said it was still not fit for purpose.

A subsequent review in 2019 on progress found that while several areas had shown signs of improvement, there was still a significant amount of work which needed to be done.

Professor Cameron, who is the independent chair of the Children’s and Young People’s Centre for Justice in Scotland, said: ‘[Fellow inquiry member] Alison [Leslie] and I have had a couple of conversations with [children’s commissioner] Deborah McMillan around where things are in Jersey. I think she has achieved a lot and come up against some barriers along the way.

‘Admittedly, these perceptions are from afar and to some extent this is second hand but our sense is there are still a lot of issues that have not progressed.’

He cited two core recommendations made in 2017 – one being to ‘build a sustainable workforce’ and the other being to overhaul the youth justice system including the demolition of Greenfields.

In March, the Jersey Care Commission carried out an unannounced inspection at Greenfields and served an improvement notice on the Children, Young People, Education and Skills Department after discovering seven breaches of regulation, the majority of which related to staffing.

The department operates Greenfields, which provides secure accommodation for up to four residents aged ten to 17, who may be on remand or the subject of secure-accommodation orders made by the Royal Court.

‘The fact that Greenfields is still being used when it was deemed entirely inappropriate for the care of children is a concern and there does not seem to be any real attempt to address that,’ Professor Cameron said.

‘When you go through the final [2017] report and progress report there are some things you can tick off and say “Yes, they have been achieved” but there are a lot of things that have not really changed yet.

‘There is a history in Jersey of commissioning reports and reviews and then nothing happens. At the end of the inquiry in 2017 the then-Chief Minister made a commitment to implementing it all but then Ian Gorst lost that position. It did not seem to us that his replacement had the same level of commitment.

‘The concern is that having committed to doing these things, five years on from the first report there are still lots of things which have not been tackled.’

The Island has faced a staffing crisis across several areas and Professor Cameron cited the recent difficulties the Education Department had experienced in recruiting teachers ahead of the new school year in September.

‘You cannot begin to deliver good and adequate services for children and young people – or any vulnerable person for that matter – without a stable workforce and that is clearly not the case at any level at the moment,’ he said, adding that he hoped new Chief Minister Kristina Moore would ‘run with the agenda’ and that the new Scrutiny panels would ‘keep a close eye’ to ensure progress did not stall any further.

Professor Cameron also said that the panel members would be happy to ‘engage in a discussion’ about how Jersey could get back on track in delivering improvements relating to the care of children.

‘I think we would be happy to engage in a discussion about what would be most helpful. In 2019, some people said “In another two years would you come back” but the view at that time was that the Island should take responsibility for moving these things on. I think it probably hasn’t,’ Professor Cameron said.

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