INSPECTIONS by the Jersey Care Commission earlier this year – following anonymous tip-offs – concluded that three children’s homes were not fit for purpose and were operating outside of the law, it has been revealed.
The inspectors discovered that they were being run by inadequately trained staff working excessive hours, and found shortcomings in areas such as fire safety, storage of medication and the requirement to follow care plans for children.
The damning reports, which were published this week, resulted in the homes being closed, as they had breached the law. The government has said that the issues have since been addressed.
The inspection report has sparked fresh questions for the Island’s government, with acting children’s commissioner Andrea Le Saint raising concerns over a lack of transparency, while Scrutiny chair Deputy Catherine Curtis called the ‘apparent lack of care and safety’ ‘really concerning’.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner also recently highlighted that 16 children had been placed outside of Jersey for their care, during a UN Committee on Rights of the Child event in Geneva, at which ‘searching questions’ were asked of the government. It has also recently been reported that the Island is critically short of foster carers.
Following news of the inspection results, Deputy Sam Mézec questioned whether the Island was ‘putting children first’, a government pledge made in the wake of the Jersey Care Inquiry.
The 2017 report laid bare a catalogue of failings within the Island’s care system, which had allowed decades of abuse to go unreported, and made eight core recommendations for the future provision of childcare in the Island. Then Chief Minister Ian Gorst pledged to enact all of the inquiry panel’s recommendations.
Current Chief Minister Kristina Moore said her government had a ‘renewed sense of determination’ to learn from the findings of the inquiry following her election last year, after Professor Sandy Cameron – who was one of the three panel members conducting the inquiry – criticised the lack of progress made during the previous government’s term of office in advancing the report’s recommendations.
In particular, she cited the fact that Greenfields remained in operation as one of his core concerns, alongside staffing levels.
The Greenfields facility was hit with two notices from the JCC in 2022 as a result of inspections in March, August and September, after 12 areas for improvement were noted – including concerns around ‘woefully inadequate’ education standards and staff being ‘placed at risk’ due to being unable to deal with threats of violence. The Island’s secure children’s unit is no longer subject to improvement notices.
The care commission’s most recent inspection results are the latest in a long line of issues that have emerged since the inquiry.
Damning criticism was levelled at the previous government in 2022 by former children’s commissioner Deborah McMillan after it emerged a child was being held at La Moye Prison, with Mrs McMillan writing to ministers arguing the move breached the child’s human rights and was against Jersey law.
A recruitment campaign had to be launched in August last year after it was revealed that the number of foster carers in the Island had almost halved since 2020, with Fostering and Adoption Jersey team manager Sarah Wakeham labelling it the ‘biggest crisis’ in the service for a decade at the time.
In 2021, governors from Haute Vallée handed back a poster promoting the government’s ‘putting children first’ initiative during a Scrutiny hearing, saying the school did not feel the pledge was being met at the time, and labelling the statement ‘spun, deflective and faceless’.
Responding to the care commission’s latest report, Deputy Curtis – who chairs the Children, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny panel – said she was seeking an explanation from the minister.
‘I was very disappointed on reading the reports,’ she said. ‘What’s really
concerning is the apparent lack of care and safety that was provided by the government for these children – even though it was temporary, it still fell way below standards.
‘Looked-after children deserve better, they should be safe and feel well cared for – it may be that there are kind and caring staff working hard at these homes, but there are so many instances of failings to provide a safe environment. It’s just not good enough.’
Deputy Curtis’s Reform Jersey colleague Deputy Sam Mézec said he found the reports ‘utterly depressing’.
‘We do not “put children first” by having them looked after in the conditions described,’ he said. ‘Both they and the staff deserve better than this.’
Ms Le Saint said she was alarmed that the government had set up the homes without notifying the commission or applying to register them.
She said: ‘I’m concerned that while there have been lots of improvements since the Care Inquiry report, there has been a lack of transparency, with the commission not being informed about them until this happened via tip-offs.’
Ms Le Saint said she had faced challenges establishing contact with the children affected in a bid to ensure they had a voice in what was happening.
‘It was made immensely difficult to get access, and I couldn’t see the children on their own,’ she said, adding that she had written to Children’s and Education Minister Inna Gardiner to share her concerns and seek a meeting to discuss the matter.
Deputy Gardiner said the concerns in the care commission’s reports had been noted, and addressed, meaning that no unregulated activity was taking place currently, with new facilities for three children having subsequently been registered.
She said: ‘I cannot go into detail about why children were placed into care at those locations, or the locations themselves, but I can offer a reassurance that children or young people were placed there with carers, due to genuine, urgent circumstances, and to ensure they were not in a potentially harmful situation.
‘The nature of looking after children to ensure their best interests sometimes necessitates quick decision-making.’