Jersey’s child care system is back in the firing line

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An Ofsted inspection of children’s social work in the Island has found there has been some improvement but there is ‘still a long way to go to ensure that children, and particularly care leavers, are consistently and effectively supported, protected and cared for’. It also says that several areas still fall short of best practice.

The review found that until the core issues are properly resolved, the service will ‘continue to struggle to deliver safe and effective interventions and support for children and their families’ and that ‘some areas for development are taking too long to progress’.

In 2017, the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry found a catalogue of failings in the system, which allowed decades of child abuse to go undetected. In September, the inquiry panel returned to give a ‘two year on’ update which praised the early strides towards improving child care provision in the Island but reiterated that more needed to be done.

Now, following an invitation from the Jersey Care Commission to review standards, Ofsted have said that the service remains ‘fragile’, with turnover in the workforce remaining ‘much too high’. It added that children, as a result, receive fractured support.

Other findings include:

  • Not all departments across the government work effectively together to ensure a joined-up response to vulnerable children’s needs.
  • Services for care leavers remain insufficient.
  • Social workers need more support to settle, live and work in Jersey.
  • There is ‘continuing instability’ in the workforce, both at a frontline and leadership level.
  • ‘Shortfalls in supervision and management oversight’ and a lack of coherent procedures make it difficult for social workers to do their jobs.

The review did praise the way in which provision of child care had been placed higher up the political agenda through the appointment of a Children’s Minister and the creation of a Children’s Plan. It also found that improvements had been made to strengthen the multi-agency safeguarding hub and adoption and fostering services, while the Island had developed a better response procedure for children at risk of exploitation.

It acknowledged that progress has been made ‘from a very low base’ and that social work practice has improved, but ‘not all children get the help they need at the right time’.

The chairman of the Jersey Care Commission, Glen Houston, said: ‘This report describes the improvements made since 2018, outlines gaps in the infrastructure, and describes the actions required to shift the whole child care system onto a better and stronger footing.

‘Jersey has the potential to become one of the best-performing child care systems in the British Isles. It is up to those who are responsible for planning and delivering these services to make it so.’

The Care Commission have now said they will seek assurances from Chief Minister John Le Fondré, as well as those in charge of providing care and support to children and young people, that all of the recommendations will be accepted and taken forward with the ‘necessary pace and commitment’.

Children’s Minister Sam Mézec said: ‘We welcome the Jersey Care Commission’s follow-up report and recommendations. I am pleased with the finding that children in need of help and protection are now better supported than they were at the time of the last inspection.

‘However, there is still more to do to ensure a fully joined-up response to children’s needs, and the Government Plan, which was approved on Monday, will spend more than £20 million a year to make the required changes and provide the right conditions to help all our children to thrive.’

He added that the Government was already developing a ‘Service Development Plan’ to respond to both Ofsted and inquiry recommendations and that a number of permanent appointments which had been made recently would ‘stabilise the workforce at all levels’.

‘Given the positives that Ofsted has found, which were from a low base, now is the time to start thinking about services for children, rather than the Children’s Services function and how we work together in partnership,’ the minister said.

‘We are determined to ensure continued progress and I welcome the findings and recommendations, which I will reflect on with senior leaders in Children, Young People, Education and Skills in the coming weeks.’

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