JERSEY risks heading toward another care inquiry unless the situation changes, a children’s advocate has said.
Advocate Darry Robinson, who specialises in bringing action against local government branches in children’s proceedings, also called for the practice of placing children in ‘unregistered homes’ to be made a criminal offence, after the latest Jersey Care Commission report revealed that this had taken place.
He said it was ‘shocking’ that the legislation, which is in place in the UK, does not exist in Jersey.
He added that sidelining the children’s commissioner and the ‘lack of transparency’ that she condemned in a letter to Children’s Minister Inna Gardiner was ‘unforgivable’.
In response to the reports, Advocate Robinson said: ‘I am concerned that if things carry on in Jersey the way that they are, then there is a genuine risk of a further care inquiry.’
Regarding comments from government ministers that children will be ‘put first’, Advocate Robinson said: ‘Ministers mean well but part of the problem is that ministers change and government changes, but the senior executive does not.
‘I wonder how well apprised of the situation [the Children’s Minister] is being kept. There is a need for transparency at a high level in the children’s services. Without that, how can you put children’s needs first? Things are not going in the right direction.’
He also suggested that the Children’s Minister ‘might consider taking on her own legal advice in relation to what’s happening.’
Progress, he said, would be to make the placing of vulnerable children in unregistered homes a criminal offence.
‘If Jersey wants to put the child first, as the government says it does, then it should implement appropriate legislation to protect children’s welfare,’ Advocate Robinson said.
‘It’s shocking that legislation hasn’t been brought in to make it an offence to place children in what may be sub-standard accommodation. How are we going to make sure that it is safe and that we prevent inappropriate people from getting access to the most vulnerable children in Jersey?’
In 2021, the UK made it illegal to place vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation. The legislation followed warnings that some teenage children in care lived in ‘dangerous accommodation’, including hostels or caravan parks.
Advocate Robinson said that while such situations would not necessarily take place in Jersey, ‘holiday accommodation could be used to house children, illustrating the need for regular inspection and review of registered accommodation’.
‘I don’t think it’s rocket science. We should follow the UK,’ he said.
He said that in an ‘unregistered property’, there could be ‘things in the home which are harmful for that child’.
‘You need to make sure children have what they need, and can be protected from themselves,’ he said.
He added: ‘Sidelining the children’s commissioner is unforgivable. It is an excellent role and I’m concerned she is being sidelined because it is convenient to do so. Part of the problem is lack of transparency, not knowing who is making these conditions. People are not being held accountable.
‘Care homes for our most vulnerable must be regulated because risks are so high if they are not.
‘If my view was sought, I’d be happy to give it. We should be doing what the UK did some time ago and making sure that our most vulnerable children in society are properly protected by ensuring they reside in registered accommodation.’
– Advocate Robinson previously worked for the Law Officers’ Department and dealt with children’s cases, before moving to private practice in 2018 and joining Benest & Syvret, where he represents children in care and their families as well as guardians from the Jersey Family Court Advisory Service.