Police receive hundreds of child neglect reports every year in Jersey but only a fraction of those end in charges, with prosecution seen as the "last resort".
Neglect is prosecuted under the Children (Jersey) Law 2002, whereby a person with responsibility for a child is deemed to have neglected the child in a manner likely to cause the child harm if they have failed to provide, or procure the provision of, adequate food, clothing, medical aid or accommodation for the child.
Following the recent launch of a new strategy to deal with neglect in Jersey, and Royal Court cases highlighting potential serious neglect in relation to a little girl and three young brothers, whose case has sparked a Safeguarding Partnership Board review, Express looks at the scale of the issue and intervention by authorities...
Only 2% of child neglect cases in the island lead to prosecution according to data obtained by Express from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, with the States of Jersey Police noting that most cases fall below the threshold for trial.
The FOI response reported that in 2020, the States of Jersey Police received 458 child protection reports with ‘neglect’ as an abuse category, with 23 cases resulting in prosecutions.
In 2021, the number of cases was 341, which led to seven prosecutions.
As of 8 March 2022, Police had received 76 neglect reports.
Pictured: Neglect is one of the most common forms of child abuse.
A spokesperson for the Police highlighted that police officers would have to prove beyond reasonable doubt an intention or recklessness not to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or accommodation for a child.
"This can be very difficult to do in circumstances where poverty and other factors come into play," the spokesperson said.
Pictured: The number of child neglect cases, as recorded in a police ‘Child Protection’ file. Numbers as of 8 March.
Earlier this year, the Government launched a new safeguarding strategy in Jersey, following reviews that highlighted more needed to be done to prevent neglect in the island.
Jersey’s Safeguarding Partnership Board (SPB) also stressed the need for a community effort to tackle the issue, alongside professional support.
The FOI response stated that in the vast majority of cases, reports of neglect are not followed by a prosecution.
It said: “Most cases relate to concerns that fall below the threshold required to prosecute. It is always preferable for professionals (both police officers and social workers) to try to work with parents to enhance the lives of their children."
The Police said: "Prosecution should be a last resort and professionals should look to work with families to improve the lives of children."
"The child protection reports are a mechanism for flagging concerns and making that happen. Whilst the number of child protection reports in respect of neglect should be of concern to the island, it is to be welcomed that police officers are bringing these concerns to the attention of agencies who are better placed to help."
The response states that an example of a case that is unlikely to result in prosecution could include an instance of untidy or unclean accomodation.
Data from the Government’s Children’s Social Care service showed that in 2020, they received 63 referrals categorised as ‘neglect’, making up 9% of total referrals. In 2021, the number of neglect referrals was higher, at 135, accounting for 21% of total referrals that year.
As of 8 March 2022, Children’s Social Care had received 18 referrals related to neglect.
Although the number of neglect referrals was higher in 2021 than 2020, the FOI response highlighted that the total number of referrals to Children’s Social Care across all categories had declined.
Pictured: Numbers of child neglect referrals to Children’s Social Care. Numbers as of 8 March.
Government attributed this reduction to the introduction of the Family and Community Support Service and the Children and Families Hub.
The FOI stated: “Children and families now receive support as soon as their needs emerge and are supported to avoid escalating to a neglect referral.”
Referral numbers were also impacted by the pandemic, with school closures and changes to service delivery resulting in fewer referrals.
The impact of the pandemic brought forward the opening of the Children and Families Hub to March 2020 and a media campaign was conducted to encourage referrals.
Recognising that some children were more vulnerable during the pandemic, and that some families needed more support, the hub was opened early to provide a single point of contact and referral for children.
Pictured: Child neglect referrals were impacted by the pandemic.
The hub aims to streamline some of the older processes to bring the "right support to children and families at the right time".
A Government of Jersey spokesperson said: “Colleagues from across Government – including Children’s Social Care, nurseries and schools, and medical staff – work alongside States of Jersey Police to identify and report suspected cases of neglect.
“Following the outbreak of COVID-19, these services were less likely to see children, and therefore less likely to identify neglect.
“Throughout the pandemic, colleagues have continued to work together to safeguard children and young people. This includes running two campaigns to encourage the public to report concerns, and setting up the Children and Families Hub, which can respond to any safeguarding concerns.
“In addition, we continue to provide additional resources for colleagues so that they can identify and tackle neglect. This includes rolling out new tools to help professionals identify the signs of neglect (for example, the evidence based Graded Care Profile 2 Neglect Toolkit), and working with the Safeguarding Parentship Board to develop and deliver the Multi-Agency Child Neglect Strategy."
The report also shows that the number of children registered on a Child Protection Plan with a category of neglect has remained stable over time.
It should also be noted that in many cases, Children’s Social Care refer cases to the police, and the police refer cases to Children’s Social Care, thus, the same cases of neglect will be duplicated by both authorities.
The Government added that anyone who is concerned about the wellbeing of a child can contact the Children and Families Hub on 01534 519000 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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