Independent Jersey Care Inquiry Panel: government still 'not doing enough'

Jersey’s government is still not doing enough to look after vulnerable children, two years after the publication of a damning report into children's services.

A progress report from the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry panel which produced a scathing report in 2017, says a number of services are still sub-standard.

In a briefing at St Paul's Centre in St Helier, Frances Oldham QC, who chaired the panel, says "Jersey has the potential to provide world class services for its children,” but believes there is “a long path” to achieving it.

Among the damning criticism, the panel heard that “people are still in fear of speaking out,” and that there remains a “culture of fear in the workplace.” The panel also heard that the complaints process was ineffective and that "obstacles are put in the way of anyone who complains.”

The panel also described Greenfields secure unit as “not fit for purpose”.

Parents interviewed as part of the report said they felt “mashed” from dealing with multiple agencies who deal with vulnerable children. One service user even told the panel that their social worker was angry that they contacted the Children’s Commissioner.”

Frances Oldham QC, who chaired the panel, says Credit: ITV Channel TV

Frances Oldham QC was told by one child, “There’s no point building a relationship with my social worker and I don’t even remember their name any more as they change so often.”

High turnover of staff is seen as a key issue, with one person telling the panel that delays in allocating staff "will increase stress and pressure on families." The report also says that efforts to attract social workers from elsewhere with Jersey’s “better quality of life” has not been successful and proposes subsidies for the cost of living of incoming personnel.

The foster care system also came in for criticism with young people feeling “fobbed off” by professionals and foster caters themselves treated as “minions” by authorities.

The panel called for mandatory training for all politicians so that they could understand their role as a corporate parent - as well as training in the judicial system, where there was a "perception that the courts did not have children as their paramount concern.”

There were also calls for ministers to present “concrete plans” for better mental health services for young people and care leavers "as a matter of urgency”. It also called for funding to be set aside for abuse survivors experiencing “ongoing trauma” to ensure they have support for “as long as is required”.

An earlier row over what information could initially be accessed by the Children's Commissioner was branded a “recalcitrance and lack of accountability.” Staff also had a tendency to "see services from their own perspective rather than from service users.”

The report did praise the “impressive changes” in the overall culture and quality of residential care.

Responding to the panel's review, the NSPCC says that the government must take on board the recommendations made.

It is vital that the safety and protection of the island’s children and young people is an absolute priority, and there have been some significant and encouraging steps taken since the care inquiry’s recommendations were made two years ago, including the appointment of a children’s commissioner.

NSPCC spokesperson

Jersey's Chief Minister John Le Fondre says progress has been made, he recognises there is more that government needs to do.

Chief Minister John Le Fondre says it could take years for children's services to get to the standard they need to be. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Mandatory training will be introduced for ministers to ensure they understand their responsibilities. However, the Chief Minister warns that getting services to where they need to be is going to take time.

I'm pleased with the recognition there's been good work to date and we recognise there's a long way to go. I think when you last interviewed me on this matter I said we had about 18 months to get to what I'll call adequate which gives an idea of how bad or inadequate services were previously. It's going to take us about three years to get to good.

John Le Fondre
Alan Collins is a lawyer representing care leavers. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Alan Collins is a lawyer who represents care leavers. He says that implementing the panel's recommendations is very important, but that cultural changes need take place if services are to properly help people.

Survivors say to me that, yes, in many ways we have moved on, there are changes for the better, but there is still this legacy or this feeling that they are treated differently, that there is still a stigma associated with being in care.

Alan Collins, Lawyer