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Care in Jersey – An article on the findings of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry

The report of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry was released on the afternoon of 3rd July 2017 and has been subject to considerable media interest in the island but also farther afield. The media interest is no surprise given that the Inquiry was commissioned following the Haut de la Garenne scandal and the Operation Rectangle investigation into child abuse which took place between 2007 and 2010. The Inquiry’s remit was however far wider than the matters subject to the police investigations at Haut de la Garenne. The remit of the inquiry was to establish what went wrong with Jersey’s child care system over many decades, in fact, since the end of the German Occupation in 1945.

The Inquiry has been extensive, far-reaching and expensive. There were 149 days of hearings and consultations, over 200 witnesses and 136,000 documents. It has cost £23,000,000. Before the publication of the report, there were rumblings from politicians and other islanders about the cost of the Inquiry and whether or not the money was well spent. Since its publication, such concerns have not been voiced. The report has been endorsed by the Jersey Care Leavers’ Association who campaigned for an independent inquiry and the recommendations have been welcomed by politicians in the island. The Chief Minister issued an apology to all victims of child abuse in Jersey, acknowledging that people in authority had “cared more for the status quo than for the care of children”. He told a press conference: “I am shocked. I am saddened. I am sorry.” He also made a commitment to implement the recommendations of the Inquiry and to build a new culture in the island which puts children first every time.

The report highlights ten significant failings within the child care system in Jersey. Many of these relate to historic matters but the inquiry also emphasised that even at the end of their investigations Jersey’s services for children remained (and remain) not fully fit for purpose.

Failings identified in the report:

(i)Failure to value children in the care system, listen to them, ensure they are nurtured and give them adequate opportunities to flourish in childhood and beyond. This includes lack of investment in the recruitment, management, supervision and continuing development of staff with suitable backgrounds and skills to care for children.

(ii) Failure to have in place an adequate legislative framework that prioritises the welfare of children in need or at risk. While the States of Jersey has always been able to provide sufficient resources to keep pace with developments in international financial law, Jersey’s child care legislation has lagged behind other jurisdictions in the developed world – often by decades.

(iii) Failure to keep pace with developments in social policy, child care practice and social work standards in the developed world. For example, in Jersey there has been an ill-considered, misguided and potentially harmful approach to secure accommodation that was used routinely for children whose needs would have not have met the threshold for secure detention
elsewhere and without the thorough assessment or rigorous safeguards that were in place in other jurisdictions.

(iv) Failure to plan and deliver services in an effective, targeted manner to achieve positive, measurable outcomes for children. For decades, there was little evidence of a considered approach to the needs of and desired outcomes for individual children. At a strategic level, there was a marked absence of government initiatives to tackle the causes of social inequalities and deprivation or to promote the welfare of children. In the youth justice system, punitive approaches were taken to children whose misdemeanors likely would not have reached the threshold for prosecution in other
jurisdictions.

(v) Failure to establish a culture of openness and transparency, leading to a perception, at least, of collusion and cover-up. Jersey’s culture has not encouraged the reporting of poor and abusive practice. At times, efforts to protect the island’s reputation and international standing have led to insufficient acknowledgement of the gravity of the Island’s failings and the egregious nature of some of the abuses perpetrated on children in its care. Such attitudes have fostered the suspicion, within parts of the community, that most politicians and States employees cannot be trusted and that abusive practices have been covered up.

(vi) Failure to mitigate negative effects of small island culture and its challenges. Failures have included ignoring or failing to manage conflicts of interest and prioritising the welfare of staff over the needs of children. Social connections have meant that, at times, there has been insufficiently robust professional challenge to poor practices.

(vii) Failure to make sufficient investment in staff development and training. Dedicated staff have not been truly valued, while unskilled staff have been allowed to run institutions or care for children with severe and enduring emotional needs.

(viii) Failure to adopt policies which would promote the recruitment and retention of staff with essential skills in child welfare and child protection. Incentives and expedited residency qualifications are available from the States to draw highly valued individuals and financial organisations to the island. In contrast, little effort has gone into creating the incentives that
would make Jersey competitive in recruiting and retaining exceptional managers and staff to care for Jersey’s children, who could be seen as the island’s most valuable asset.

(ix) Failure of the States of Jersey to understand and fulfil corporate parenting responsibilities, including adequate aftercare of children who have been looked after by the state. The overwhelming majority of adults who have been in the care system, and whose stories the Inquiry heard, still suffer from the effects of abusive or emotionally neglectful childhoods in the care system, their difficulties often compounded by being turned out, unsupported, into a world with which they were singularly ill-equipped to cope.

(x) Failure to tackle a silo mentality among public-sector agencies. States departments and institutions have been characterised by territorialism and protectiveness rather than openness to pooling resources and learning. As a result, there has been a lack of a comprehensive strategy to secure the bestinterests of children in the island.

 

The report went on to comment on the current state of care for children in Jersey. Confirming that “Unfortunately, these are not only historic failings.” In relation to current services for children, the inquiry found that the management style within the residential sector was not conducive to keeping children safe, care orders were being used inappropriately or not at all and young people in the care system felt they had no voice. There was inadequate provision for making therapeutic environments and relationships to enable children to recover from adverse experiences. There was also a concern that lessons have not been learned in the past and that there was a mismatch between what managers felt had been successful improvements and what actually happens on the ground. The report refers to managers “not knowing what good looks like” in modern child care practice. As a consequence, the Inquiry felt that children are still not always receiving the kind or quality of care and support that they need.

The Inquiry did find that there was recognition, in all sectors and among all professionals, of the eight lessons to be learned from the failures of the past:

Lessons to be learned

(i) The welfare and interests of children are paramount and trump all other considerations. Traditional values, operating and management practices, the needs or employment status of staff, convenience, HR practices and the reputation of the island should all be secondary considerations to the interests
and welfare of children.

(ii) Give children a voice – and then listen to it. All children are different, and the “listen to children” box cannot be ticked by providing one process or one set of documentation.

(iii) Be clear about what services are trying to do and the standards which they should attain. Jersey needs to articulate its aspirations and the standards it seeks for the performance of staff, for children in its care and wider services for children in the island. It needs to have clear thresholds for state intervention in families, including in respect of youth offending.

(iv) Independent scrutiny is essential. Regular scrutiny of child care law, policy and practice by individuals or agencies entirely independent of Jersey is essential. While in Jersey, persons involved in such work should avoid even the perception of conflict of interest or partiality.

(v) Stay connected. Jersey must ensure that child care and youth justice
legislation, policy and practice are not only compliant with current standards in the developed world, and with ECHR and with UNCRC principles, but also that legislation policy and practice are regularly being informed and evolving in line with research and developments.

(vi) Investment is essential. Every child in Jersey is key to securing the island’s future, prosperity and international standing, but that will not be achieved without according the island’s children’s services priority comparable to its financial services.

(vii) The quality of leadership and professionalism are fundamental requirements. Services for the most vulnerable children should not be delivered simply by whoever happens to be available.

(viii) Openness and transparency must characterise the culture of public services. Politicians and professionals should admit problems, shortcomings and failures and promptly address them. The establishment of the Inquiry and the freedom with which it has been allowed to operate has demonstrated a political will and public desire in the island to open Jersey’s institutions to thorough, independent and robust scrutiny in order to secure the best interests of children.

The Inquiry made eight recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Chief Minister on behalf of the States of Jersey. The recommendations are a departure from the outcomes of previous inquiries which have dealt with procedural and policy matters.

This inquiry has stated that the key changes required are not procedural but cultural. The States of Jersey must commit to and invest urgently and vigorously in a new approach to overseeing, supporting, developing, delivering and scrutinising its services for children.

Recommendations

1: A Commissioner for Children
That a Commissioner for Children be appointed to ensure independent oversight of the interests of children and young people in Jersey. Such a position to be enshrined in States legislation and should be appointed without delay. Consideration should be given to this being a joint appointment with other jurisdictions to enhance the perception of independence.

 2: Giving children and young people a voice
As well as a Commissioner for Children, other steps are necessary to ensure that children in Jersey are given a voice. The current complaints system should be replaced with one more easily accessible by children and young people. The outcomes of complaints to be reported to the Minister and in an annual report to the States. This system should include a the appointment of a Children’s Rights Officer, who will have responsibility for ensuring that children in the care system, irrespective of where they are accommodated, are supported to ensure that their voice is heard and that the matters they raise are addressed. Jersey should also develop a partnership with an independent external advocacy service such as Become. Annual meetings between the Chief Minister and care-experienced young people.

 3: Inspection of services
Establish, within 12 months, a truly independent inspection arrangement for Children’s Services. Inspection teams should include experienced lay people and young people who have been in care.

 4: Building a sustainable workforce
Build a sustainable workforce by recruiting and retaining suitably qualified staff at all levels. Children’s Services to be provided with a dedicated specialist HR resource. Wider matters will also need to be considered, including whether Jersey’s current residency rules need to be changed to help recruit and retain staff. The panel also suggests ways to develop a culture of working across all public services in Jersey.

5: Legislation
Legislation for children in Jersey should be overhauled so that youth justice moves to a model that always treats young offenders as children first and offenders second. A suitable training programme needs to be put in place for the judiciary to this end.

6: Corporate parent
Following every election, there should be mandatory briefing for all States members as to their responsibilities as corporate parents for looked after children, and new States members should be unable to take their seat until this had been undertaken. To emphasise the importance of this, reference should be made to this specific responsibility in the oath of office taken by members of the States Assembly. The responsibilities of the States to all of Jersey’s children should be set out in a Children’s Plan evidencing how they will enable all children for whom they have responsibility to achieve and fulfil their potential and support them into adult life. This plan should cover the same period as the Medium-Term Financial Plan and should be reviewed annually.

7: The “Jersey Way”
Further consideration should be given to the recommendations made in the Clothier and Carswell reports, which both recommended that the Bailiff should be removed from the States. The panel said this was in response to repeated evidence about “The Jersey Way” and concerns raised about the non-separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary.

 8: Legacy issues
A number of legacy issues must be considered. The Inquiry documents must be “preserved in perpetuity” with all public documents retained in the public domain and consideration given to making the archive more easily searchable. There should be some “tangible public acknowledgement of those who have been ill served by the care system over many decades”. That should include a way to acknowledge their suffering in years to come. Consideration should be given to demolishing Haut de la Garenne and ongoing support should be put in place for those who feel they need it.

Conclusion and responses

The report states that establishing the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry was a significant step for the States of Jersey to have taken on behalf of the people of the island and the panel have doubt that there is a genuine commitment to learn from the past and to make improvements for the future. They are however, aware that it is a common criticism of public inquiries across jurisdictions that there is, in the majority of cases, no follow-up to verify what action has been taken in respect of findings and recommendations that have been accepted by those commissioning the report. The panel’s view is that, from the outset, a mechanism should be established to monitor and verify the implementation of the recommendations. They therefore recommend that the Panel returns to the island in two years, to hear from those providing the services and those receiving them.

These recommendations have been accepted by the States of Jersey. In the days following the publication of the report, funding has been authorised for the immediate recruitment of a Children’s Commissioner and a commitment made to implement the other recommendations. The only matter referred to in the report which has sparked some comment is the recommendation to demolish the Haut de la Garenne building. The building is historic, on a large site in the east of the island. A straw poll conducted by the Jersey Evening Post has indicated that a majority of people who responded, would not want the building demolished but rather developed in some way to expiate the experiences of those who suffered there. The sentiment that it was people and policies that caused the harm, not bricks and mortar has been expressed. The Chief Minister himself has indicated that he will consult with fellow States Members as well as Islanders, adding that “If the desire is to demolish that building then I am committed to doing it”.

The consensus about the IJCI report in Jersey is that it is a thorough and far reaching report which will result in much needed changes to child protection in the island. A very positive outcome.

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