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Lawyer "horrified" Gov sidelining Hope House while using "child prison"

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Friday 09 July 2021

Lawyer "horrified" Gov sidelining Hope House while using "child prison"


A local lawyer says he is “horrified” that the Government is continuing to send struggling youngsters to “child prison” while sidelining a rehabilitative charity’s brand new specialist therapeutic facility.

Advocate Darry Robinson, who specialises in children’s care proceedings, has for many years been arguing for a therapeutic home for some of the island’s most vulnerable children - but, as recently as last week, was told by the Government’s Director of Child Safeguarding in the Royal Court that no such facility was available.

He therefore said he was appalled to learn this week that Hope House, a homely unit opened earlier this year for children in emotional distress or struggling with addiction or eating disorders by drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity Silkworth, currently had beds lying empty because the Government was refusing to send children there. 

He warned that the fact the Government did not appear to even be considering Hope House as an option may even be a breach of children’s rights.

Following a £250,000 investment by Silkworth in refurbishing the former Brig-Y-Don children’s home, Hope House opened in March to a “flurry” of referrals from social workers. However, as Express revealed yesterday, those suddenly dried up.

No explanation has ever been provided – but Silkworth’s Chair and CEO believe this is due to a Government "directive". Alongside Jersey’s Children’s Commissioner, they fear that ‘gatekeeping’ is happening, perhaps because the Government is working on its own "intensive support service."

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Pictured: Hope House opened in March 2021.

Advocate Robinson spent about eight years working for the Law Officers' Department and dealing with children’s cases. He moved to private practice in 2018 and joined Benest & Syvret, where he represents children in care and their families as well as guardians from the Jersey Family Court Advisory Service (JFCAS).

During this time, he said he had been calling for a therapeutic facility many times as part of the proceedings he had taken part in - some of which involved young people being made subject to a secure accommodation order by the Minister for Children and Education. 

The lawyer explained that, in the absence of another appropriate facility, children who repeatedly go missing from their homes and whose safety is deemed at risk because they engage in drinking or drugs, are being sent to Greenfields, which he described as a “draconian option” since the facility operates as a “child prison”.

“It’s a fall-back position for the Minister when someone should be placed in a therapeutic unit in Jersey and does not want to a therapeutic unit in the UK,” he said. “Do not get me wrong, the staff at Greenfields are fantastic, but it is a prison.”

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Pictured: Advocate Robinson said Greenfields operates like a "child prison".

In a recent case reported by Express, the Royal Court was told by a guardian that the ideal solution for a suicidal child who repeatedly went missing would be a “therapeutic placement” - “Unfortunately none was currently available in Jersey”, the court judgment read.

In its conclusions, the Court observed: “Everyone seems to agree that ideally the Child needs a therapeutic placement. This is not currently available here, but it is available in the United Kingdom.”

Advocate Robinson, who was involved in the case, said he only found out about Hope House when Silkworth’s Chair and founder, Frank Laine, contacted him after reading the comments and invited him to visit the facility.

“My god, it’s a 12-bedroom unit with many therapeutic resources as well as educational opportunities and the type of programme that may well assist children in Jersey,” he said. “It seems to have all the elements that are required for what Hope House wants to achieve.”

Convinced that Hope House could become “another tool in the armoury of caring for children”, Advocate Robinson said it should at least be considered in cases before the Court and included in the assessments for children who might benefit from this type of care. 

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Pictured: Advocate Robinson said the Court was not aware of Hope House.

He said he had himself encountered a number of cases in recent months where a child had been sent to Greenfields when they could have instead benefited from staying at Hope House.

“The top directors [of Children’s Services] have visited Hope House; they all know about it, yet this resource has not been mentioned in one social worker statement,” he explained.

Referring to a case before the Royal Court this month, Advocate Robinson continued: “[Director of Safeguarding] Mark Owers took a stand, under oath, before court and said there was nothing available for that child in Jersey. He mentioned there would be a place by October but at no point did he mention there was an alternative. I do not really understand why [Children’s Services] have sort of sidelined Hope House.

“If a social worker has considered this type of referral, it has not been mentioned. Because the guardians are unaware, it makes me feel it has been excluded from social workers’ report.

“No social worker has made any of the guardians working for JFCAS in childcare proceedings aware. We have this really odd situation where the court does not seem to know about it and none of the guardians seem to know about it. I think it’s rather shocking.”

Advocate Robinson said that such a “deficiency” in telling the Court and notifying the guardians could potentially breach Children’s Rights by depriving them of their liberty and family life.

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Pictured: Advocate Robinson said that failing to tell the Court about homely facility Hope House could potentially breach Children’s Rights by depriving them of their liberty and family life.

He explained that, for a secure accommodation order to be made, a two-part test has to be met. The first part of this test is to prove that no other premises would do.

However, he said that, if Hope House was a viable option, a secure accommodation order would not have to be made. 

The lawyer said he couldn’t understand why Children’s Services would reject the facility, adding that, if they had any issues with it, they should have been open about them and worked “in tandem” with Silkworth to address them and “achieve the best outcome for children”.

So far, the charity has not asked the Government for any fees for any child referred to their service. Costs for a therapeutic placement for one child in some residential homes in the UK can reach up to £600,000 in some cases.

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Pictured: Key figures in Children's Services - Susan Devlin (Group Director of Commissioning and Transforming - Children’s Services), CYPES Director General (Mark Rogers), Director of Safeguarding (Mark Owers).

“Ignoring [Hope House] flies in the face of a text called ‘Working together in the best interest of children’, which encourages all professionals to work together in the best interest of children,” Advocate Robinson said. 

“We have had the report from the Care Inquiry and Jersey wants to present this ‘putting children first’ image but I am not sure it is happening. I think they need to be a lot more transparent in their approach.” 

When first contacted by Express, Education Minister Deputy Scott Wickenden said discussions were "ongoing" with Hope House.

Following the publication of Express's piece yesterday, a Government spokesperson added: "Hope House is registered with the Jersey Care Commission as a Children's Care Home to deliver a specific 28-day programme. Detailed discussions are underway with Silkworth to determine if Hope House can meet some of the identified needs of children and young people in the Care of the Minister.

"These active and positive conversations are continuing."

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Pictured: The Minister for Children and Education, Deputy Scott Wickenden.

They added: "We are working hard to develop Greenfields Children's Home, both from the support provided and the physical environment, in the short term, while developing a new specification for the Greenfields site. This will include consideration of what other services for children should be delivered.

"Detailed work is also underway to consider the development of a small therapeutic children's home, at another site, to provide specialist support on-Island as an alternative to off-island care. Further details will be shared in due course."

While Children's Services are not currently referring children for therapeutic care at Hope House, Silkworth said it was still happy to take private referrals and can be contacted directly by any families of children needing help.

"...We want to ensure that islanders are aware that there is a route directly to us and we are in hope that a clear pathway can be developed with Government to widen access to this facility," Mr Laine and CEO Jason Wyse said.

LISTEN...

Express spoke to Silkworth CEO Jason Wyse about his concerns that Government 'gatekeeping' is stopping the island's most vulnerable children access the best quality therapeutic care...

Open the gates to Hope House

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FOCUS: Gov criticised for wasting children's therapy facility

"This will be a safe place for young people to get well"

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Comments

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Posted by Andy Buchanan on
I 've heard about Gary's work dealing with families generally and think it's truly honourable that he is zoning in on this major issue with so much depression and brokenness around during covid especially. Lawyers like him are a true asset to the island and I am glad his voice is being heard
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