A Government 'Failing' To Not Know About Care Issues

The Children's Commissioner says it's a failing of government that some Ministers didn't know about issues with children growing up in care, including that all but one of the children placed in Greenfields in the last five years had previously been in the Children's Minister's care.

Deborah McMillan says she spoke at last month's Council of Ministers meeting about where care wasn't good enough - and although some agreed, others said they didn't know and questioned the Chief Executive and Director-General on why that was.

She told Scrutiny that it's a shocking statistic.

Surely, in the aftermath of the Care Inquiry, the Council of Ministers, no matter what other pressures that they face, whether it's a pandemic or not, should be totally, forensically scrutinising those children who are most vulnerable.

If they're saying to me, we don't know what's going on, then that's a problem, that's a failing.

A parent has said that to us - that my child was taken away from me because I couldn't care for them and now the Minister can't care for them and so they're locked up.

I think we have to question that and in fact, my team will be carrying out some work on that over this year.

We need to look at our attitude towards children and young people who are in need of care, protection, and support. We need to make sure that we give families all of the support that they need, so we don't need to remove these children in the first place, but if we do have to remove those children, it should be for a small period of time so that they can go back to where we belong.

We're not talking about a lot of children in Jersey, we're talking about 60/70 children a year that this government is their parent and right now, they're failing those children."

Greenfields has stayed open, despite the Jersey Care Inquiry calling it 'entirely unsuitable'.

The Independent Children's Home Association said last year that it should be closed as a secure home, but the government said some children will have such pronounced needs that they'll need a safe and secure environment to thrive.

Ms. McMillan says rapid support is needed.

"We need children's service to be given the support that they need across all of government so that they can make the changes.

For example, one of the problems is the recruitment of social workers. We know some of the barriers to social workers coming to the island, we know that some people are recruited and then don't take up the post because of the cost of living, the cost of housing, the choice of school for their children.

They're all things that can be practically eliminated, but we need a whole government approach to do that.

It's only then when you get in staff on permanent contracts that stay consistent, then they can be supported with good quality training and then you can drive the change."

The government launched a new campaign in November 2021, after most of the 20 newly qualified social workers it recruited off the back of a 2019 campaign left the island because of personal reasons, the pandemic, and/or cost of living concerns.

The Children's Commissioner also spoke to the Children, Education, and Home Affairs Panel about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on children and young people.

She says she's deeply concerned that time will run out on new legislation to incorporate the United Conventions on the Rights of the Child into domestic law.

It was promised by the government when elected in 2018 but still hasn't come forward.

Ms. McMillan says not having this has been a problem during the pandemic.

"That particular piece of legislation puts in statute a Children's Rights Impact Assessment. If we'd have had that at the beginning of the pandemic, some of the decisions would have been different and outcomes for children, I don't doubt, would have been better.

It has been easier for the government to use the excuse of the pandemic to ignore or marginalise children's rights, rather than place them centre stage.

But this is now our opportunity. One new law is being lodged, which is the draft Children and Families law. That must be debated and it must be passed without amendments to make sure that in law, children have the very best protections. We cannot risk that being delayed.

The second bit of legislation that will support this is the draft Children's Convention Law, the one that brings in the due regard to Ministers and the Children's Rights Impact Assessment. That has not yet been lodged and is in danger of being delayed.

Let's put what's happened behind us and make sure that moving forward, children's rights are centre stage by making sure that those two vital bits of legislation are in place, ready to go, so that when the new government sits (after June's election) it's there and we can train staff on those new bits of legislation and make sure that the building blocks are in place as we move forward."

A Children's Manifesto will be created to give to anyone standing for election in Jersey.

Ms. McMillan is working on it with young people - she says it will make sure candidates truly understand what putting children's rights first means.

The Scrutiny hearing also heard that:

  • Around 30 families a week after accessing food banks
  • The move to telephone and video appointments for mental health support, because of the pandemic, has been welcomed by many children
  • Some families are struggling to afford doctor's appointments

The Scrutiny panel is gathering evidence and will put a report together on the impact that Covid-19 is having on children and young people.

"We would like to thank the Children’s Commissioner and her team for providing comprehensive insights regarding how children experienced the pandemic and for highlighting the key problem areas.

"It is clear the pandemic has exposed key issues in our society and we need to take this opportunity to address these problems including the standard of care for children and young people. The Government must act now to improve our children’s immediate and long-term futures." - Deputy Louise Doublet, Panel Vice-Chair.

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