Jersey child protection review: No evidence of current abuse

An inquiry into child protection on Jersey has found no evidence of current institutional or systematic abuse of children on the island.

UK social work expert Andrew Williamson, who was commissioned by the Jersey government to undertake the review last August, said children’s homes were safe but recommended the creation of a children’s minister for the island and external scrutiny of services. He also called for a whistleblowing policy for staff, saying that many felt unsupported when facing difficulties.

The review, published over the weekend, was prompted by concerns from UK social worker Simon Bellwood and former health and social services minister Stuart Syvret.

Solitary confinement in secure care

Bellwood was sacked from his post as manager of the Greenfields secure unit on the island after criticising a policy of locking children in solitary confinement, known as Grand Prix. Syvret, who supported Bellwood’s case, claimed there was widespread malpractice in children’s services.

Williamson found that the Grand Prix system was no longer in operation, and that a “welfare model of care” was now in place at Greenfields.  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 take if evidence came to light.

Inquiry into historic abuse

Since Williamson’s review began last year, the separate police investigation into historic allegations of abuse at the former Haut de la Garenne children’s home has brought intense media scrutiny to the island.  “Present investigations into past practice on the island may unearth a different picture but as we are not involved in those investigations it would not be appropriate for us to comment. These matters are quite properly for the police to deal with,” the review said.

But Williamson confirmed that he had heard four allegations of abuse from people in the care of the another former children’s home, Les Chenes, and in foster care in the 1990s, and that these had been referred to the police.

Williamson welcomed the appointment of June Thoburn, emeritus professor of social work at the University of East Anglia, as chair of Jersey’s child protection committee. Thoburn, who was appointed by Syvret last year, is doing her own child protection review.

“These developments make it far more likely that any inadequacies in the child protection services will come to light and be appropriately addressed,” Williamson’s review said.

Children’s minister

He made 11 recommendations, including the creation of a children’s minister “with clear lines of accountability” and an external independent reviewing officer for looked-after children, and biannual reviews of children’s services by an external organisation.

He also called for a whistleblowing policy for staff “to be able to voice concerns without fearing instant rebutall or challenges of malpractice” and said the children’s service could be “defensive and resistant to change.”

Jersey ministers said they were “firmly committed” to implementing the recommendations as soon as possible.

‘Not gone far enough’

Simon Bellwood claimed the review had “not gone far enough.” He called for the establishment of a children’s commissioner in Jersey – similar to the role in the UK – and for Ofsted to inspect children’s services. “The Jersey government must be made more accountable and put a system in place so robust that no bad practice can occur,” he said.

The Howard League for Penal Reform is due to publish its own review of penal services on Jersey including Greenfields later this year.

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