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FOCUS: Gov admits failings in vulnerable child care during covid

FOCUS: Gov admits failings in vulnerable child care during covid

Wednesday 20 October 2021

FOCUS: Gov admits failings in vulnerable child care during covid


The Government has accepted some island-wide care facilities for vulnerable children are not "sufficient" - including secure home Greenfields, where staff are "struggling" due to recruitment issues and "inexperience", and mentally unwell children have had to mix with young offenders.

The comments are quoted in a new report to Scrutiny from the Children’s Commissioner, which lays bare how covid emergency measures have had a “negative impact” on children, particularly in those in the care of the Minister or within the youth justice system.

The Commissioner quotes reports presented in a Strategic Leadership Board meeting, which state: "We do not have sufficient on-island care settings - Foster Care and Residential Care - for children in the care of the Minster and those children and young people on the edge of care.

"We have had to establish care settings outside of regulations and we have placed children in our children's homes outside of the Statement of Purpose we have previously agreed with the Jersey Care Commission."

Greenfields and mentally unwell children

It was further stated that services "are struggling to meet all the assessed needs of young people placed at Greenfields. This is due to challenges with staffing levels, inexperience and the mix, number and needs of the children and young people."

Greenfields in particular was focused on as a particular concern throughout the Children's Commissioner's new report, which voiced a number of concerns about the conditions at the site.

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Pictured: In one instance, the Children's Commissioner attempted to secure an early release for a young person during a covid outbreak at Greenfields, but was refused.

One of these issues was the fact that children on Robin Ward had been moved into the centre, impacting both them and the children detained at Greenfields with convictions, or on remand.

"Children have been detained during covid in the secure children's home, with those on remand mixing with those convicted, and also with those held for welfare reasons, as well as the setting being used as an inpatient unit of the hospital for children with mental illnesses.

"Overcrowding and the need to separate all of these groups meant that a child was placed in a room not designated as a bedroom and with no toilet facilities and they were locked in the room at night."

Similarly, the Commissioner noted an instance where she "sought the early release of a young person who was detained in the secure children's home following an outbreak of covid in the home. This was not granted."

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Pictured: Children's Commissioner Deborah McMillan has presented an updated response to a Scrutiny review on covid's impact on children.

She questioned the need for how many children were being sent to the secure facility too, saying that "during the pandemic children and youths have been refused bail and sent to Greenfields.

"When appearing before the Youth Court, they were then released home, suggesting that the detention was neither necessary nor proportionate."

She said she was "aware of an increasing number of cases where children are being deprived of their liberty when there is evidence that it is not the measure of last resort."

Earlier this year, Express reported on how an independent review on care slammed the Greenfields site as "neither effective nor efficient", recommending it become a centre that puts therapeutic support at the forefront.

The Commissioners's comments come as part of an updated report on the way the Government's emergency covid measures had "disproportionately negative effects on particular groups of children, including children in the care of the Minister."

It particularly hones in on its observation that children in situations of vulnerability had been "discriminated against."

Arrests and detention

Tying into the concerns around Greenfields and disproportionate detentions, the Commissioner notes that she "is aware of an increasing number of cases where children are being deprived of their liberty when there is evidence that it is not the measure of last resort."

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Pictured: Arrests of young people saw an 104% increase between 2019 and 2020.

Though the Commissioner also sought assurance children would not arrested or subject to detention due to the breach of covid measures, the report said that a "child under the age of 18 was arrested, detained and charged for breaching isolation legislation."

It also voiced how there were concerns that "children were being disproportionately targeted by police for not maintaining two metre distancing and congregating in public."

This was said to be "particularly during the summer of 2020 when there was a corresponding spike in arrests of children, and the number of children being stopped and searched."

It adds that: "In 2019 there were 35 juveniles stopped by the Police and searched. In 2020 this rose to 257."

"The Police have reported that data giving the exact reasons why an individual was stopped is not readily available and so it has been impossible to see if the rise has been as a result of Covid or indeed any other factors. Nevertheless, it is a huge concern."

Parish Hall enquiries were also suspended, leaving some children waiting 7 months after the offence took place.

Domestic violence

There was also an increase in children encountering domestic violence. Police figures showed that number of children exposed to high-risk domestic abuse has risen by 49% when comparing January-March 2019 with January-March 2020."

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Pictured: It is estimated that 6 out of 25 children children in a class of 25 are living in a home where domestic violence or abuse is present. 

It continues: "It is estimated that there are more than 3,500 children living in a Jersey household where domestic violence or abuse is present: this equates to six children in a typical class of 25."

On one of the possible ways covid measures have impacted this too, it points to the "fewer referrals to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) due to a decrease in time that professionals spent face to face with children and families, thereby weakening protective measures."

Children in care

The report notes that the Government made decisions that were "not in the best interest of children", such as a relaxation of a law which enabled regulation and inspection of children's homes.

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Pictured: The report noted that referrals to social care were "well below the numbers that were seen pre-Covid," raising concern about "hidden harm."

Staffing issues and a reliance on UK agency workers for the service were also highlighted, which it states has led to a lack of trust in relationships with children.

"Reliance on the UK for agency social workers meant that due to Covid there were issues with staffing, and a high turnover rate meant many children in care and those on child protection plans had a frequent change of social worker," the report reads.

"There has been a persistent issue of high staff turnover in social work, leading to a lack of stability and trust in relationships with children and young people in Jersey.

"This can also interrupt or delay care planning for children in care. Further, the loss of expertise when staff frequently change can have a significant impact on children's services."

In terms of Government oversight too, it was pointed out that "the Strategic Leadership Board which oversees the improvement of children's social care had no Board meeting between June 2020 and March 2021, while the Corporate Parenting Board did not meet for more than 12 months."

Earlier this year, Constable Andy Jehan raised these concerns with Express, calling it "unacceptable" that the Corporate Parenting Board had not met in that length of time.

Referrals to social care

Concerns about "hidden harm" were also raised, with referrals to social care "well below the numbers that were seen pre-covid."

The Commissioner's report notes that "referral numbers were high up until March 2020, with a large proportion of assessments leading to no further action", and that, whilst many families are able to benefit from "the Children and Families Hub", the reduction raises concern.

Summing up the report's findings, the Children's Commissioner found that "emergency measures were developed with very little consideration given to children or children's rights," and that there "continues to be negative impacts from Emergency Measures on children and young people."

The report also found that Ministers may have broken the law by failing to consult with Ms McMillan on the emergency measures they introduced during the pandemic.

READ MORE...

Children's Commissioner accuses Ministers of breaking the law

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Posted by Scott Mills on
Jersey the global leader in everything that doesn't really matter in the real world. Windy beaches out there today.
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