Jersey’s Children’s Services have been strongly criticised after a teenage girl with “complex” behavioural difficulties, which involved self-harm, taking drugs, and sometimes sleeping rough, was sent to a care home in Scotland without the permission of her mother, her guardian or the Royal Court.
According to the Children’s Law, the Royal Court must approve any placement for children away from Jersey, but this wasn't followed in the case of 14-year-old Eleanor (name changed).
The girl's guardian said that a manager at the Children’s Service said she had “no idea" that the court’s consent was needed for the child to be placed abroad.
The issue resulted in the Royal Court having to hold an emergency sitting, at which not all stakeholders could be present, in order to rectify the issue.
Eleanor’s placement in October of this year was said to have come after months of moving around for the young girl, whose behaviour was undergoing a “progressive decline.”
At the time the decision was made for her to live in secure accommodation, she was reported to have undergone a period of sleeping rough, drinking alcohol, smoking cannabis and self-harming. Eleanor, who was in touch with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, was also arrested for theft, and was said to have committed acts of vandalism.
There were also concerns about her peer group, with a “significant concern” that she could fall victim to child sexual exploitation.
Eleanor was said to have shown some improvements while living in a home in Jersey, but it was recommended that the best option would be sending her to a place where she would be unable to continue her behaviour.
Psychiatrist Dr Raipal said: “It would be essential that she is placed in a caring environment that has some legal authority to detain her... her care needs require, as a priority, a legal restriction on her and a caring environment with the skill sets in managing attachment issues, early developmental trauma and skill sets in supporting kids with attachment difficulties.”
Pictured: The Minister for Health and Social Services, Deputy Richard Renouf, has responsibility for signing off on decisions associated with the care of children in Jersey.
In October, Deputy Renouf made an application for a further secure placement order. The Court refused given that there was nowhere suitable for Eleanor to go after the order. After Eleanor started associating with a registered sex offender, the Minister began exploring the idea of a placement at a Scottish care home service for children.
According to a social worker from the Children’s Service, Eleanor enjoyed her visit there and wished to return as soon as possible. She travelled back to Scotland shortly after, without the Court being consulted.
Royal Court Commissioner Sir Michael Birt noted that the error was only realised after the event and that there had been no evidence to explain how it had happened. He added that, if proven true, it would be a serious matter for a senior manager to be ignorant of the requirement to consult the Court before any placement away from Jersey.
The Minister requested the Court’s approval on the day Eleanor travelled to Scotland. As the Royal Court Commissioner sat “as a matter of urgency” with Jurats Charles Blampied and Jane Ronge to consider the request on 31 October, they realised that the Children’s Services had also failed to contact Eleanor’s parents or her guardian about the placement.
The social worker said she had spoken to Eleanor’s mum and grandmother and that both the child and her mother had agreed to the assessment.
Pictured: The Children's Law says that the Court needs to approve any off-island placements.
But Eleanor’s mother denied giving her consent or even speaking with the social worker about the placement. She said she had simply been informed that Eleanor was going to Scotland for an initial visit and then that she would be returning. Likewise, Eleanor’s guardian was not consulted or given the opportunity to decide whether the placement would be suitable. The Minister therefore decided that she should be given time to visit the care home and suggested a decision be made after she had done so.
The Royal Court noted it was unclear whether Eleanor wanted to stay in Scotland as she had been “sending very mixed messages.” According to the social worker, she had agreed to return for the assessment and said she was happy with how things were going. However, her mother said she had been angry about it and wanted to return to Jersey – a feeling echoed by Eleanor’s advocate, Rui Tremoceiro.
Nonetheless, they considered that Eleanor was not in a position to give or withhold her consent due to her emotional state. “It is clear that her view as to whether she wishes to stay or return to Jersey depends entirely on her emotions at the relevant moment she is asked,” they noted, adding that it wasn’t a proper basis upon which to make a decision.
It was decided that Eleanor should stay in Scotland until the next hearing on 26 November, where it will be decided if she should stay for the rest of the assessment period. They said it was in her best interest for now, given that she is at risk of significant harm in Jersey, because of her “absconding, drinking, [and] associating with men.”
The Commissioner also noted in his judgmentthat the court will be questioning officers from the Children’s Service to understand why they didn’t seek the Court’s approval before sending Eleanor away from the island.
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