UN criticises treatment of Island children in UK care

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JERSEY’S treatment of children placed in care in the UK has been criticised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in a report published yesterday.

The document says that Jersey should develop legislation to safeguard such children and ensure they are placed outside the Island only as a last resort, something children’s commissioner Andrea Le Saint said her office had raised ‘countless times’ with ministers and officials.

The committee took the unusual step of singling the Island out in its response to the UK’s latest reports under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, also recommending that Jersey adopt a child-justice strategy.

This is understood to be the first time that the committee has specifically highlighted what itregards as the Island’s shortcomings under a convention to which Jersey became party by extension of the UK’s ratification in 2014.

Last week, Advocate Darry Robinson – who specialises in bringing action against local government branches in children’s proceedings – said that Jersey risked heading towards another care inquiry unless the situation in the Island changed for the better.

He 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.

The children’s commissioner welcomed the UN’s comments, saying her office was delighted to see that specific recommendations had been made to the government in relation to the need for a clear legislative framework governing the placing of children in the UK.

‘This has been the focus of much of our work in recent months, both as an office and in collaboration with independent experts,’ Ms Le Saint said, adding that the matter had been raised with the government ‘some time ago’ and that it pointed to ‘a strong need’ to look urgently at the legal basis and child-rights compatibility of Jersey’s placements away from the Island.

‘It is very heartening to see the UN Committee reaching the same conclusion in dedicating a paragraph to asking Jersey to develop a legislative framework for placing children in alternative care off-island, and ensuring that such placements should only be a “measure of last resort”, which is a fundamental rights issue that we have raised countless times with ministers and relevant officials,’ she added.

Responding to the committee’s report, Assistant Minister for Children and Education Connétable Richard Vibert said it had highlighted Jersey’s progress since 2014, citing the appointment of a children’s commissioner, banning smacking and marriages under 18, and the establishment of a Youth Parliament and Participation Standards so that children’s voices were more widely heard.

‘The report does say, however, that we don’t have a child’s-rights-based approach to the placement of the children in care settings off-Island. We have not been provided with specific evidence on how our current approach falls short and, in the rare circumstances where a child is placed off-Island, we work closely with stakeholders and the courts to ensure that the child’s rights are the heart of any decision made,’ he said.

Home Affairs Minister Helen Miles said that a Youth Justice Strategy was being prepared and was due to be published before the end of this year.

‘It will be based on “Child First” principles, recognising that children are different to adults and should therefore be treated according to their age and particular circumstances, putting them at the heart of service provision, identifying and tackling any impacts on offending, and identifying and promoting influences that help them to move to pro-social, positive behaviour,’ she said.

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