Exclusive: Jersey minister admits past child protection failings

A senior Jersey social services minister has said that the island made “awful mistakes” in failing to protect children in the past.

Speaking exclusively to Community Care today, assistant health and social services minister Jim Perchard vowed to improve services in the wake of the investigation into child abuse.

Rocked to the core
Perchard (right) said the island had “been rocked to the core” by the police discovery of what is believed to be a child’s remains at the former Haut de la Garenne children’s home a fortnight ago.

About 200 people have made allegations of rape, flogging and physical attacks at the site as part of the police investigation.

Unware
Perchard said he was “unaware” of the allegations dating back decades, despite being “born and bred” in St Martin just two miles from Haut de la Garenne.

“I was shocked to the roots when I heard the news,” he said. “I don’t know the full extent of what happened although it does appear that there was abuse. We are broken by this whole scandal, and are determined to put things right. We accept awful past mistakes have been made, and must learn from them. There is so much to do,” he told Community Care.

No cover up
He said there was “no evidence of a cover up” among current members of the Jersey establishment, and suggested allegations may have previously failed to come to light because of a “culture of ignorance.” He added: “I hope such a culture does not persist today.”

Perchard hit out at media coverage of the abuse case, saying it had made life “increasingly difficult” for care workers that are currently looking after about 74 children on the island.

“The coverage is damaging staff morale. It is important that their work is not undermined as they try and do their job at this tough time,” he said. “The impression created by the media is not Jersey – we are not perverted aliens.”

Interim report
Perchard confirmed that tomorrow UK expert Andrew Williamson will present interim findings from his separate inquiry into children’s services on the island.

Williamson was appointed last year after child protection concerns were raised by former social services minister Stuart Syvret and UK social worker Simon Bellwood.

Greenfields secure unit
Perchard indicated that Williamson would “say something” in relation to the Greenfields secure unit on the island, where Simon Bellwood raised previous concerns over a policy of locking children in solitary confinement. He added: “I have been assured internally that we are up to speed in children’s services and that there are no immediate concerns.”

Perchard said Williamson’s remit – which predated the Haut de la Garenne findings – would not change in the light of the police investigation.

“Andrew would not be able to look at historic allegations as it would contaminate evidence being considered as part of police investigation. The police are properly resourced and we hope they will uncover the truth,” he said.

Confident in judiciary
Perchard confirmed that Jersey officials had recently met with the Ministry of Justice following recent calls for independent prosecutors to manage cases arising from the child abuse investigation. But he said he was confident that the Jersey judiciary could handle the cases.

He also reacted strongly to a story in the Daily Mail today, which claimed Perchard’s senior, health and social services minister Ben Shenton, had “mocked” the police investigation in an e-mail to colleagues.

Perchard said Shenton’s criticisms were “not representative of the attitude” among Jersey officials.

Welcomes Ofsted
Perchard also said he would welcome regulation of children’s services on the island by Ofsted.”We have nothing to hide and want to learn,” he said. Perchard said the Jersey government had been in discussions with Ofsted for the past four years, but nothing had been resolved “due to resource issues.”

The minister spoke to Community Care as Jersey’s chief minister Frank Walker faced calls to resign over his handling of child abuse allegations on the island.

Facebook
More than 1,000 people have joined the Facebook site Vote Frank Walker out of the States, while another group Jersey’s Frank Walker Should Resign has more than 300 members.

This weekend, there will be a public gathering on the island to express support for victims of child abuse as the police investigation continues.

The Howard League for Penal Reform are sending their own review team to the island at the end of this month.

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