'Greenfields is now a metaphor for Jersey. We commission reports, ignore them and nothing improves'

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By Susana Rowles

Recent debates have been all about population. All over the media and social media, people have been talking about empty homes and population numbers. We’ve been discussing if the census results are even accurate at this point in time, and there have been some discussions about how Jersey is now below the OECD average in the Better Life Index (just below Spain and marginally better than Hungary).

I have much to say about both the topics, but I am not ready to move on from the issue with Greenfields and the mistreatment of our young people just yet.

I understand the need to improve life for everyone, and I understand the need to balance the population books. Nonetheless, I am not ready to move on to the next topic, and neither should you be. I wrote about this in my last article, and much has happened since, but I am not confident that this issue is anywhere near being resolved and, as such, I do not think we should allow ourselves to be distracted.

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with representatives from the third sector to continue developing my understanding of this complex issue. People have been generous with their time and took care to provide me with their version of events. I think I understand how we ended up where we are.

Not for the first time in Jersey’s history, and perhaps unsurprisingly to many readers, there are at least two different versions of events. Interpretation of events and recollections of the challenges faced do vary. Anecdotal evidence does not square up with official versions.

Jersey’s small size impacts its ability to deliver certain services. This much is clear to see and was referenced by the outgoing director of children’s safeguarding and care, Mark Owers, last week in his interview with this paper.

In it, he referenced staffing challenges, which I am sure are very real.

Recruitment is made harder due to the lack of essential worker accommodation and high cost of living, allied with the high psychological impact of working in a small community, where the proximity and intensity of the work carried out can make social situations difficult. There is not enough separation between the work being carried out and the private lives of individuals.

I am sure this is a true reflection of some of the challenges faced. I am sympathetic towards professionals who, as the director implies, are ‘jaded’ by the results of the care enquiry.

Ironically, one of the critical issues around Greenfields is that it is not a suitable unit. So, the same problem around the lack of suitable accommodation affects both children and professionals, yet nothing has been done to address either.

The difficulties around staff recruitment were apparent in 2018 and 2019, yet this did not result in a change in practice. Why?

Social care professionals need and deserve support and appreciation for the demanding job that they do. They also deserve the safety of the correct staff ratios, not the relaxation of standards and practices as occurred during the pandemic. This is particularly important because some of those standards were not yet completely embedded.

Regardless, the problems with Greenfields are not simply related to recruitment challenges. The basic improvement suggestions have also been ignored again and again. Why? Why have these been overlooked when resolving them could have had a positive impact?

Let’s be clear, the issue with staff shortages is not the only issue to focus on and fixing that will not exactly make Greenfields a pleasant place to be. Aside from staffing, the unit has structural problems that need addressing as well as cultural ones.

The system is not putting children at the front and centre of the care experience.

Can you imagine how harrowing it can be for children in care to have to recount their experiences to staff, time and time again? Would you think it appropriate for children to be invited to speak with organisations that do not have relevant experience in conducting that type of work?

That is precisely what happened in 2020, for example, when children in care were invited to ‘share’ their ‘journey through the residential care system’. This included a review of children’s journey into care, their experiences in care, and their transition into adulthood. It was conducted by an organisation that did not have experience of previously having carried out such reviews.

Allow me to break this down. Children were invited to participate in a discovery exercise by sharing their own experiences with a third-party organisation that did not have previous experience in carrying out such reviews. Why was this deemed acceptable?

Let it be known that the suitability of this process was questioned at the time by the third sector.

Ironically, the third sector is now being heralded as the way to help the community put their arms around Greenfields.

Why are we being told that the third sector is now the best vehicle for service delivery when for the past five years, the sector was ignored and dismissed?

We have a history of ignoring alarm bells. Professionals, children, parents, and third parties have all seen their alarm calls ignored. When will we take issues seriously?

The situation with Greenfields is a metaphor for Jersey. We ignore experts and professionals. We ignore the people who experience a facility. After years of being told about the issues, we finally acknowledge them. We commission a report and learn some lessons. We set up bodies and commissions to hold us to account. We ignore the bodies we created. We expend millions to be told how to resolve the issues we have created. We ignore the reports. We employ more people who will commission further reports. They will be ignored as well. Meanwhile, nothing improves.

Who shall we call when no one is answering?

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