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Questions raised over legality of locking up children in care

Questions raised over legality of locking up children in care

Thursday 01 July 2021

Questions raised over legality of locking up children in care

Thursday 01 July 2021

Questions around whether social workers and guardians in children's homes should be able to lock children in rooms if they fear for the child’s safety have been raised in the Royal Court, following the case of a suicidal child who repeatedly ran away.

The case involved a decision over whether the child should be sent to stay at a Secure Care Unit or allowed to stay at the home where they were being cared for, on the provision carers could lock them in their rooms when needed.

The Court - made up of Commissioner Sir William Bailhache and Jurats Rozanne Thomas and Elizabeth Dulake - observed that that the child had gone missing from their residential home numerous times overnight this year, with the Court also saying the child also had a history of absconding and self-harm.

The child had already been given three Secure Accommodation Orders previously - though the third one was cut short, after a ‘Professionals Panel’ ruled to discharge it.

This was a move which the court criticised as not being “the right decision”, saying the law had a “defect” which meant the panel had no obligation to consider the views of the court. 

In April, the Children’s Minister requested a fourth Secure Accommodation Order of 12 weeks, saying that, “somehow or other, the cycle had to be broken.”

However, representing the child, Advocate Darry Robinson disagreed with the Minister’s request, saying the child should stay in Residential Care, and could be offered the same treatment there.

According to the judgement, the Advocate said that “what was needed was a therapeutic and support package", and that since “the Minister was endeavouring to provide this”, the only difference between staying in Secure Care Unit and the Residential Home was the locking up of the child.

He added that the same results could be achieved in the Residential Home if staff shut and locked the door there rather than at the Secure Home.

The Court disagreed with the majority of Advocate Robinson’s argument, saying they “did not accept [his] submissions that simply because the Order had been tried and failed before, it was not appropriate to try it again.  

“First, something needs to be done urgently to keep the Child safe now. It was clear from the evidence we heard that a return to the Residential Home would not have that outcome.”

They also stated that: “it is difficult to say that the Secure Accommodation Order made [earlier] proved to be a failure. It was not – it was in fact working perfectly well until the Child was discharged from that Order...

“On the earlier occasions last year, everyone – the Minister, the Guardian, the Court – perhaps did not concentrate sufficiently on the length of time for which the Secure Accommodation Order might be necessary for this particular person and a longer period might have been appropriate.

They continued: "There is real risk that this young person will not be sufficiently prepared to move from childhood to young adulthood and be safe in doing so.  It is no answer to [their] problems to say that Secure Accommodation is not necessary because when [they are] in it [they do] not self-harm or abscond.  While that may be true, it is because the whole environment prevents that happening, and so it is not entirely surprising.   

However, they did admit that Advocate Robinson "may be right that more thought needs to be given to the issue as to whether a Looked After child can be locked into his or her room.

“Parents would not hesitate to do so on occasion if it were necessary to keep their child safe. But we recognise that there may be difficult legal issues to resolve and as we have not been fully addressed on the matter, we express no view on it.” 

The court decided to give the Secure Accommodation Order of 12 weeks to the child, saying the time in Secure Care Unit was “not a punishment,” but a chance for them to “stabilise” themselves. 

Children going missing from care has generated much discussion in recent months. In April, a report from the Jersey Care Commission on children’s homes noted “frequent” cases of missing persons, with one home reporting 143 incidents, mostly overnight.

In 2020, there were 770 people aged between 11 and 20 years old reported missing on the island, an increase on the 637 people in that category the previous year.

Additionally, in total from January 2017 to April 2021, 90% (2,916 people) of people reported as going missing were aged between 11 and 20.

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Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by nigel pearce on
With all the problems with children’s behaviour and mental health we keep getting informed of, is the main problem the lack of parental guidance/discipline the reason? There seems to be something lacking in their lives and the security of a caring parent who will give both love and guidance may be the cause.
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