Senior social care staff in Government have been criticised for "unacceptable" and "obstructive" behaviour in response to the closure of three children’s homes deemed by inspectors to be unfit and operating outside the law.
Children's Commissioner Andrea Le Saint is seeking explanations from Children’s and Education Minister Inna Gardiner after the Jersey Care Commission issued reports on the three homes, following inspections earlier this year.
The inspectors discovered that the homes were being run by inadequately trained staff working excessive hours, and found shortcomings in areas such as fire safety, storage of medication and the requirement to follow care plans for children.
Although the government has said the issues have been addressed, Ms Le Saint is one of several key figures with questions arising from the issue.
In a public letter to Deputy Gardiner, Ms Le Saint raised concerns that neither her office, nor the Care Commission, had been contacted by the Government about the homes, and sought assurances that the issue would not happen again.
She said: “I am deeply concerned neither the Care Commission, myself or the Independent Reviewing Officers were notified of these homes operating, instead the Care Commission received an anonymous ‘tip off’.
“This lack of transparency and collaborative working is very concerning to me in relation to children’s rights to safety, advocacy, participation, standards of care and protection – I therefore welcome the Care Commission’s Inspection."
The Commissioner said she had sought to gain access to the children affected in order to carry out her legal role as a champion of their rights, but this had been difficult.
“After what I assess as unhelpful, and even, obstructive behaviour from senior members of social care staff, I was finally permitted to see one child but only in the presence of a member of the children’s home staff – this is unacceptable,” she said.
Pictured: The homes were being run by inadequately trained staff working excessive hours, and found shortcomings in areas such as fire safety and storage of medication.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner also recently highlighted that 16 children had been placed outside of Jersey for their care, during a UN Committee on Rights of the Child event in Geneva, at which “searching questions” were asked of the government. It has also recently been reported that the Island is critically short of foster carers.
The issue has also sparked concern from politicians, with Scrutiny Chair Deputy Catherine Curtis referring to an “apparent lack of care and safety”, and Deputy Sam Mézec questioning whether the Island was putting children first in the wake of the Jersey Care Inquiry.
The 2017 report laid bare a catalogue of failings within Jersey’s care system, which had allowed decades of abuse to go unreported, and made eight core recommendations for the future provision of childcare in the island.
Deputy Curtis – who is Chair of the Children, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny panel – said she was seeking an explanation from the Minister.
Pictured: Deputy Catherine Curtis.
“I was very disappointed on reading the reports,” she said. “What’s really concerning is the apparent lack of care and safety that was provided by the government for these children – even though it was temporary, it still fell way below standards.
“Looked-after children deserve better, they should be safe and feel well cared for – it may be that there are kind and caring staff working hard at these homes, but there are so many instances of failings to provide a safe environment. It’s just not good enough.”
Deputy Mézec said he found the reports “utterly depressing”.
“We do not ‘put children first’ by having them looked after in the conditions described,” he said. “Both they and the staff deserve better than this.”
Almost 6 years on from the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry it is utterly depressing to read these reports.— Deputy Sam Mézec (@SamMezecJsy) May 24, 2023
We do not “put children first” by having them looked after in the conditions described here. Both they and the staff deserve better than this. https://t.co/mf3jGQvKg6
Deputy Gardiner said the concerns in the care commission's reports had been noted, and addressed, meaning that no unregulated activity was taking place currently, with new facilities for three children having subsequently been registered.
She said: “I cannot go into detail about why children were placed into care at those locations, or the locations themselves, but I can offer a reassurance that children or young people were placed there with carers, due to genuine, urgent circumstances, and to ensure they were not in a potentially harmful situation.
“The nature of looking after children to ensure their best interests sometimes necessitates quick decision-making.”
The care commission's findings have come just ahead of a key report due to be published next week by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Jersey signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2014 and has made a number of presentations to the committee ahead of the forthcoming report, which is expected to address areas where the Island needs to do better in order to maintain its commitments.
Inspections of the homes, all of which had three bedrooms, took place in January and February.
In each case no registered manager was identified, and the failure to register the home with the commission constituted a breach of the Island's Regulation of Care Law.
The first home was described as “not fit for purpose" with a “Z-bed” provided in the living area for staff to sleep on.
Moreover, the staff rota had not been promoted fully, and staff were regularly being asked to work above the legally stipulated 48 hours per week.
There was "no registered manager" for the home and it was unclear if anyone "had overall oversight of the care being delivered".
Fire policies and procedures were not being met, nor were food hygiene measures.
There was also evidence that "Medication Administration Records had not been completed and that the stuff had not ben trained in dispensing and managing medicines."
Read the full report here.
The second home had a total of 47 individual members of staff on its roster, five times the number that a typical home of the same size might have been staffed by, with inspectors noting a lack of suitable training for staff in managing challenging behaviour.
Staff had again "been allocated excessive shifts on the rota" and there was also Registered Manager.
Moreover, the report stated that "information regarding care receivers' health needs was not clear from the documentation provided...No recent health care plans were provided and the last assessment was completed over 6 months previously."
It was noted that at least one essential health appointment had been missed.
Read the full report here.
The third home had a staff rota showing “excessive” hours being worked by some employees, including one working 70 hours per week.
The inspectors found no designated locked cupboard for medications, no support for medical appointments and a lack of record-keeping.
Read the full report here.
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