The Jersey government today announced an overhaul of children’s services including the introduction of independent inspections and a big increase in social worker numbers.
The reforms follow widespread concerns about children’s services on the island, including allegations of maltreatment of children raised by UK social worker Simon Bellwood and former health and social services minister Stuart Syvret.
A police investigation into historic child abuse on the island is ongoing.
Child protection review
The concerns prompted the Jersey government to commission a review of child protection from UK social care consultant Andrew Williamson. The Howard League for Penal Reform was also asked to examine youth justice services.
In reports last year, Williamson and the league recommended independent inspection of children’s services, a new whistleblowing policy for staff and the creation of advocacy services for vulnerable children.
Social worker shortages
In addition, the independent chair of Jersey’s child protection committee, UK social work academic June Thoburn, warned in her annual report in 2008 that social work shortages could be undermining family support work.
In response, the Jersey government said social worker caseloads were too high and proposed to increase practitioner numbers from 26.5 (full time posts) to 36.5 posts over the next two years. This would ensure that no child protection social worker held more than eight cases at any one time, with a maximum for child care and leaving care practitioners of 12.
The government also accepted most of Williamson’s recommendations alongside other measures to strengthen children’s services.
Ofsted could inspect services
Under the plan, the island’s children’s services will undergo their first independent inspections this year and next – by either Ofsted or Scotland’s Social Work Inspection Agency – with two-yearly probes thereafter.
The government will also set up a new children’s directorate bringing together all child health and social care services under a single management structure, separating children’s and adult social care.
Unlike the Every Child Matters reforms of English local authorities, this will merge children’s social care with health, although it will also include special educational needs services.
Children’s minister idea rejected
The Jersey government rejected Williamson’s call to create a post of children’s minister. Instead, responsibility for vulnerable children – previously shared by three ministers – will be vested in the health and social services minister, whose deputy will oversee the new children’s directorate.
The government said creating a specific children’s post would unduly upset current ministerial arrangements.
Other planned measures include:-
- A new staff whistleblowing policy including an independent person to oversee the process.
- The establishment of an independent advocacy service for looked-after children, particularly those in residential care.
- The appointment of a full-time independent reviewing officer to scrutinise services for looked-after children.
- The development of a Jersey Court Advisory Service to perform a similar role to Cafcass in England and Wales.
- Ending the accommodation of sentenced children under 16 in La Moye Young Offender Institution, who would be placed in Greenfields instead.
More stories from Jersey