Jersey’s child protection watchdog warned today that social worker shortages may be stifling family support work, alienating parents and leaving children without help until problems become deep-seated.
UK safeguarding expert June Thoburn, appointed last year as chair of the island’s child protection committee, called for an independent audit of child protection on the island to fully assess the current state of provision.
In her end of year report to ministers, Thoburn said there was evidence of high thresholds for children’s social care services, making it difficult for families to access support, which she linked to current high vacancy levels among social workers.
She said: “During holiday periods, if staff are off sick or vacant posts are not filled, I have concerns that the staff may be unable to respond appropriately to those seeking assistance, with the risk of families remaining unhelped and maltreatment remaining unrecognised, or inappropriate responses made.”
Thoburn indicated this could lead to over-use of formal child protection procedures to deal with problems that could have been dealt with more successfully through earlier, less formal intervention with families.
She said the number of children on the child protection register had risen from 25 in March 2005 to 46 in March 2008, while registrations were relatively high on Jersey compared to similar areas in the UK, such as the Isle of Wight, Gloucestershire and Cambridgeshire.
Andrew Williamson’s review
Pointing to findings in fellow UK social work expert Andrew Williamson’s review of child protection on Jersey, which reported in July 2008, she said some families had become alienated from social care services due to problems in accessing lower level services.
Thoburn added: “At least some of those seeking assistance at an earlier stage do not receive a service until problems have become more deep-seated, and parents or those supporting them in the community have become alienated by the refusal of a service.”
However, she also said there was evidence of “very good practice” on the island.
Among other findings, Thoburn said that though the number of looked-after children in Jersey fell sharply from 143 in 2003 to 79 in 2008, rates were still higher than in similar English areas. Jersey also had relatively high rates of looked-after children in residential care, compared to the UK.
In a report last month, the Howard League for Penal Reform found Jersey had higher rates of youth custody than England and Wales, despite its comparative lack of inner-city problems.
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