A UK social worker was sacked after “rocking the boat” about child protection issues at a secure unit on Jersey, an employment tribunal on the island heard yesterday.
Simon Bellwood, who was employed as manager at the Greenfields secure unit in August 2006, criticised a system of putting children in solitary confinement.
Rachel Camm, advocating for Bellwood, said the social worker had formally complained about the system known as grand prix, but this was not upheld.
Punishment not protection
The system used on children on remand or placed for welfare reasons at the unit “relied inappropriately on solitary confinement of children as punishment, rather than the protection of children,” Camm argued yesterday.
Bellwood also alleged that Joe Kennedy, his line manager at Greenfields, had bullied and harassed him but this complaint was also not upheld, the tribunal heard.
Bellwood is claiming unfair dismissal from his post last year.
Camm said that Bellwood’s employer, the States of Jersey, had failed to decide whether the grounds of his dismissal were “conduct or incapability”.
Rocked the boat
“It is not a coincidence that Mr Bellwood rocked the boat about child protection issues,” she told the tribunal in St Helier.
Bellwood introduced a new behaviour management policy to replace the grand prix system after starting his job, the tribunal heard.
His line manager Joe Kennedy “disagreed” with the new policy and their relationship then began to deteriorate, Bellwood claimed.
After coming back from a fortnight’s leave in December 2006, Bellwood found his policy had been taken out of action and replaced by a new system, which again used solitary confinement as a form of control, the tribunal heard.
Bellwood was told it would be “possible” he would be dismissed at the end of his six-month probation period.
He went off sick in January 2007 after making formal complaints about child protection policies at the unit and alleging bullying and harassment by his line manager.
Bellwood was put on special leave while the investigation into his complaints was carried out. He was then sacked in May on the grounds of incapability.
Camm told the tribunal: “Even if Mr Bellwood had faults it was disproportionate to dismiss him.”
She argued the social worker had an “exemplary” disciplinary record and said he had not been given an opportunity to respond to allegations about his performance at Greenfields.
Bellwood told the tribunal he had seen the job at Greenfields advertised in Community Care and had been attracted by the idea of a “lifestyle move” to Jersey.
Bedrooms labelled cells
But he became “uncomfortable” with the way the unit was run “like a prison setting”. The word “cells” was used to describe bedrooms and the living room was called “association”, Bellwood said.
He claimed his line manager Joe Kennedy told him he “had a problem with punishment”.
Bellwood said that enforced separation of children for 24 hours or more was “used inappropriately” at Greenfields.
“What would happen if [it was used on] a young girl at the age of 12 placed for welfare reasons who had suffered years of abuse?” he argued.
Children out of control
Bellwood said he understood that the grand prix system had been implemented at a “difficult” time when young people were “out of control” at the Les Chenes secure home, which was replaced, on the same site, by Greenfields.
“I can agree the system would need to ensure control but there is no excuse for a form of control in breach of children’s rights and human rights that is unlawful imprisonment,” he argued.
Bellwood said that when he first started at Greenfields the “potential of staff was great” but they “lacked direction and specialist training”.
He admitted he had been “somewhat naïve” about the challenges of implementing new policies at the centre.
Rewards for positive behaviour
Bellwood said he had wanted to introduce a system that “recognised and rewarded” young people’s positive behaviour.
Camm argued it had been ‘irrational” for Bellwood’s employer to conclude that his policies “amounted to misconduct and incapability”.
The tribunal heard Bellwood was previously operations manager at Leverton Hall local authority secure children’s home in Essex, a post he held for two-and-a-half years. He qualified as a social worker at the University of East Anglia in 2002 and is registered with the General Social Care Council.
The tribunal continues.