Jersey's care watchdog has expressed concerns about the "frequent" cases of children going missing from residential care homes - including some as young as 12 disappearing overnight.
In its 2020 Overview report of the island's seven registered children's care homes, the Jersey Care Commission noted that, in one case, a child had gone missing on as many as 47 occasions.
The report said issues with children going missing were most prevalent in four of the homes, with the Commission noting that of the 143 ‘incidents’ reported to them from one home, the majority were relating to young people missing at night.
They added that several homes were accommodating at least two children and young people who were missing from care “frequently.”
Pictured: The Commission assesses the seven registered Children's Care Homes on the island, four which are small and accommodate between 2-3 children, two which between them accommodate 30, and one secure children's home where they cannot come and go with the same freedoms.
The Commission noted that while there was some evidence of staff following young people or maintaining contact when absent, there were "other instances in which it wasn’t clear what plan was in place to secure the safe and timely return of the young person", which they said "was particularly concerning where there were identified risks associated with child sexual exploitation."
They observed that the ability of staff to respond had been affected by staffing arrangements and availability of staff to follow and collect young people, and that, in some cases, staff had simply phoned the police and then waited for the young person's return.
However, they praised the instances they had received where staff had searched the area and returned the young person, highlighting it as “good practice.”
Other serious issues raised with the Commission regarding children in care homes related to arrests, A&E admissions related to substance misuse, assault allegations and self-harm.
Pictured: Children as young as 12 were reported to have gone missing overnight.
The Commission also noted their concern at the current ‘Independent Person’ to check up on the homes monthly, who, due to the pandemic, had not been able to comes from the UK to the island to visit the homes for the majority of April to December 2020.
They only visited in July, and otherwise relied on information being sent electronically or through contacting registered managers in all but one of the homes.
Of particular concern was the fact that in early 2020, this ‘Independent Person’ had failed to highlight 12-year-old child repeatedly going missing overnight from one of the homes and getting arrested, despite the child being the only one living in the home at the time.
Another element that came under scrutiny in the report, included a failure to provide a dedicated sleeping area for staff in two of the facilities, meaning staff having to sleep in the communal area instead when the homes were at full capacity.
Despite these concerns, the report stated that "views of the young people using the care home services overall reflected high levels of satisfaction with the care received", and that staffing shortages had not appeared to have "significantly" impacted on quality of care.
Pictured: CYPES Director General acknowledged that the frequency of missing children in care needed to reduce.
In his response to the report, Director General of the Children and Education Department, Mark Rogers, said the Government acknowledged “that the frequency of missing from care episodes needs to reduce”, outlining a number of provisions for care home workers to follow, including safeguards and "preventative approaches."
He said the Government had refreshed its ‘Missing from Care Guidance’ last month, and as part of it had created a more ‘clearly defined’ distinction between missing children and unauthorised absences, explaining that part of the frequency of reports had been including notifications where the child was absent but their whereabouts was known.
These new distinctions are defined as:
He said that the Government would be appointing a ‘Missing from Care Co-ordinator’ to support residential foster carers in understanding new guidance.
On the issue of an ‘Independent Person’, he added that the Government would be appointing new ones.
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