Jersey’s children’s services should be reviewed regularly by an external organisation and a whistleblowing policy should be established for staff, a long-awaited review of child protection on the island has concluded.
The report by UK social work expert Andrew Williamson also called for the creation of a post of children’s minister, either with responsibility for all children or all vulnerable children, to “give a very clear statement that Jersey is determined to provide a high-quality service for children”.
However, he said there was no evidence of current institutional or systematic abuse of children in Jersey.
Williamson was commissioned to carry out the review last August, after individuals including UK social worker Simon Bellwood (pictured) and former health and social services minister Stuart Syvret had warned children were being put at risk in the care system.
Bellwood was sacked from his post as manager of the Greenfields secure unit on the island in 2007 after criticising a practice of locking children in solitary confinement on arrival and for bad behaviour, under a policy known as Grand Prix (www.communitycare.co.uk/jersey).
Williamson found the Grand Prix system was no longer in operation and a “welfare model of care” was now in place. He said that while it had “not been possible to know with any certainty” whether the system had been “overused or abused” in the past, action should be taken if evidence came to light.
Bellwood, Syvret and others have raised concerns about the lack of external scrutiny of children’s services on the island. Williamson said regular inspections by an external body “would provide independent verification that the required standards are being achieved”.
Bellwood called for England’s children’s services regulator, Ofsted, to take on the role, as well as for the establishment of a children’s commissioner for Jersey – along the lines of similar roles in the UK – to act as a watchdog.
“The Jersey government must be made more accountable and put a system in place so robust that no malpractice can occur,” he said.
Williamson said interviews with staff during the course of his review identified “a general feeling of lack of support or awareness” of the difficulties of working with very vulnerable children and their parents.
“Whether this is fact or illusion, this issue must be addressed and systems established for staff to be able to voice concerns without fearing instant rebuttal or challenges of malpractice,” he added.
Assistant social services minister Jim Perchard said he was “firmly committed” to implementing the report’s recommendations as soon as possible and that an implementation plan would be drawn up by October 2008.
However, Bellwood said he was not confident that the Jersey government would take the review forward, and claimed it had “not gone far enough”.
● Create post of children’s minister.
● Appoint an external organisation to review children’s service on a bi-annual basis.
● Appoint external agency to act as independent reviewing officer for looked-after children.
● Produce bi-annual children’s plan, with recommendations adopted by relevant agencies.
● Develop whistleblowing policy.
➔ From www.communitycare.co.uk/williamsonThis story appeared in 10 July issue of Community Care