New regulations blamed for charity service closure

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A CHARITY service which helps children of separated families maintain a relationship with both parents is closing – potentially leaving dozens of Islanders without support.

The child-contact scheme operated by Milli’s Separated Family Centre helps more than 80 children over the course of a year, providing them with support in a safe environment with the possibility of being escorted between parents by volunteers.

Children’s and Education Minister Inna Gardiner has said the government is exploring ‘potential options’ to meet demand for the service, which ‘does such important work’.

The charity initially announced the closure of its child-contact centre in January, claiming that regulations introduced within the past two years had redefined ‘contact’ in a way that made it ‘impossible’ for them ‘to do any work’.

It also argued that the regulations had disrupted the separation and independence it needed to operate and had effectively turned it into a government service. But the Jersey Care Commission maintained that the new standards were ‘achievable and appropriate’.

The charity’s founder, Denise Carroll, later revealed that, following meetings with the commission, the family centre would try to adhere to the new regulations.

However, she confirmed this week that the child-contact provision would close permanently on 25 June.

She stressed that they had tried to continue operating under the new standards, but claimed the regulation had resulted in volunteers ‘dropping like flies’ – with no new volunteers coming forward to replace them.

She said this was largely due to additional note-taking and unnecessary ‘tick box’ exercises that had placed extra pressure on the day-to-day operation of the service.

‘It’s heartbreaking all round,’ she said.

‘The children were always the number one priority.’

She added that there would be no further attempts to continue the service under the new standards.

‘The government has got to step up and do something quickly. I would urge States Members to come and have a look at the facility to understand the service that they are going to lose.’

Deputy Gardiner said: ‘It is sad to hear that Milli’s Separated Family Centre, which does such important work, independent of government, will be closing their child-contact centre. Officers in my department have been working with this independent organisation since February to try to find a solution.

‘However, this has not been possible.

‘I am aware of the valuable service the contact centre provides to families and the importance these families place on the independence of the service from government.’

She added: ‘I do hope an alternative provider can be found, if possible, to continue this specialist work. We are continuing to explore potential options to meet the service need.’

The regulation and the Jersey Care Commission fall under the remit of Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf.

He said: ‘In April 2022, the States Assembly unanimously approved legislation to regulate child-contact centres, alongside nine further categories of children’s social care and mental-health services. Care services need to be regulated to help keep people safe and to ensure they receive good-quality care that meets their needs.’

He added: ‘I cannot comment on the specifics of the Milli’s situation. Generally speaking, as contact centres provide services to children who are in a position of real vulnerability, we recognise the importance of providing those children, their parents and Islanders with assurances that these services are safe and meet the needs of care receivers. This is why the States Assembly decided that Jersey’s child-contact centres should be regulated by the independent Jersey Care Commission, and it is why the government continues to support this policy.’

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