A local human rights lawyer has called for the practice of placing children in unregistered homes to be made a criminal offence after it emerged that the government had opened three homes without telling the regulator – which later had to be closed when serious failings were discovered.
It emerged in reports released by the Jersey Care Commission this week that inspectors had found the trio of care facilities were being run by inadequately trained staff working excessive hours, while inspectors also found shortcomings in areas such as fire safety, storage of medication and the requirement to follow care plans for children.
While the Government said that those issues had now been rectified, Children’s Commissioner Andrea Le Saint said in a critical letter to Children and Education Minister Inna Gardiner yesterday that she was “deeply concerned that 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’.”
She went on to describe senior social care staff as having been “unhelpful, and even obstructive” when she was finally able to investigate the care being provided to children at the homes.
Advocate Darry Robinson, who has represented many children and families in care proceedings in Jersey's Royal Court, said it was “unforgivable” to have sidelined regulators, and blasted the government over its “lack of transparency”.
Advocate Robinson further called for the practice of placing children in "unregistered homes" to be made a criminal offence, after the UK introduced legislation in 2021.
"If Jersey wants to put the child first, as the Government says it does, then it should implement appropriate legislation to protect children's welfare," he said.
"It's shocking that legislation hasn't been brought in to make it an offence to place children in what may be sub-standard accommodation. How are we going to make sure that it is safe and that we prevent inappropriate people from getting access to the most vulnerable children in Jersey?"
He said that in an "unregistered property", there could be "things in the home which are harmful for that child. You need to make sure children have what they need, and can be protected from themselves."
He added: "Sidelining the children's commissioner is unforgivable. It is an excellent role and I'm concerned she is being sidelined because it is convenient to do so. Part of the problem is lack of transparency, not knowing who is making these conditions. People are not being held accountable."
Pictured: Advocate Darry Robinson.
Chief Minister Deputy Kristina Moore said yesterday that she acknowledged the concerns raised, but added: “I accept, however, that there are rare occasions when there will be no other choice for officials in making these decisions – for genuine and urgent reasons – but for a child to be put into a care placement which is not registered.
“This will understandably cause concern, but it is always necessary that we act in the best interests of the child."
She went on to explain that £6.5m per year for the next four years was being invested in a social care reform programme, while £4.25m was budgeted over 2023 and 2024 for the creation of a long-awaited therapeutic children’s home.
That message was echoed by Children’s Minister Inna Gardiner as she responded in a letter to the Children’s Commissioner this morning.
She said that there is “significant work being undertaken” to ensure that the government can provide “loving homes” for children, and that there were now more homes available to look after children than previously.
She confirmed that since March the number of homes available have increased, and foster carer recruitment is underway, with eight assessments expected to be presented to the appropriate panels over the summer.
She continued: "Unfortunately, as in other jurisdictions, there have been rare occasions when a very small number of children have had to be cared for outside a registered establishment. This has been a necessary urgent response to remove a child from a situation of actual or risk of significant harm."
"The Care Commission has been clear of the need to notify it of such placements. The notification arrangements are now understood and in place. There was no intention to hide the arrangements, rather the focus was on trying to ensure a safe level of care."
Her department is "investigating" the issues "relating to notifications regarding this activity" and "committed to ensure processes are robust going forward."
However, Deputy Gardiner added that the children's commissioner "qualify" her assessment of social care staff as "unhelpful" and "obstructive" with evidence.
"What you describe as obstructive behaviour, could also be interpreted as appropriate monitoring and assuring that people who visit children in the care of the Minister are supported adequately with familiar care staff."
She has suggested that communication between the Office of the Children's Commissioner and front-line social care services moves forward with a 'Memorandum of Understanding' setting out clear terms of engagement between the two respective offices.
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