Our exclusive story this week about child care on the island of Jersey raises a bewildering array of questions about the treatment of children and the role of social workers. Children as young as 11 placed in a secure unit, of the kind run by local authorities on the UK mainland, were allegedly locked up in solitary confinement as a matter of routine. Simon Bellwood, the British social worker who managed the Greenfields secure unit on the island, has been brave enough to blow the whistle on this punitive regime and has paid a heavy price.
Jersey’s health and social services minister Stuart Syvret has branded the use of solitary confinement as “torture”. At the very least it could surely be considered as “inhumane and degrading” treatment under the terms of European human rights convention.
The Jersey government has rightly commissioned an independent review of children’s services. Quite apart from appraising the system against widely accepted human rights principles, it should call for regular external scrutiny. There is nothing akin to the Commission for Social Care Inspection to peer into the murk of institutional error, yet past experience tells us that unregulated, closed institutions inevitably go wrong. Safeguards work when they make it easy to be good and hard to be bad in Jersey the opposite appears to be the case.
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