Children’s Services changes ‘not happening fast enough’

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An examination into Children’s Services carried out by the States new chief executive, Charlie Parker, and Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan, found that while improvements had been made, the pace of change had been ‘too slow’.

And Mrs McMillan has said that the lack of social workers in the Island has meant that some vulnerable children had ‘given up’, as their social worker had changed so regularly that they no longer had faith in the system.

Mrs McMillan, who was appointed Children’s Commissioner in the wake of the inquiry, revealed that more than 50 per cent of social workers in Jersey were agency staff.

She added that the lack of oversight within Children’s Services meant that at times minutes of important meetings went missing and that social workers were meeting children without knowing anything about them.

She said: ‘The States of Jersey are corporate parents and they must do their best for our most vulnerable children. What I am hearing is that they are on their fifth, sixth, seventh social worker in the past 12 months.

‘The pace of change is far too slow. Simply saying this is going to take more time isn’t good enough. I accept wholesale change will take some time, but in the mean time there are things that need to be done at pace.’

She added that attracting social workers to live and work in Jersey was vital to improving the lives of vulnerable young Islanders. This could, she said, be achieved by relaxing housing restrictions, offering greater pay terms or bonuses for staying in the Island for longer periods of time.

Chief Minister Ian Gorst has now given Mr Parker direct oversight and accountability for Children’s Services, while ministerial responsibility for the department remains with Health Minister Andrew Green.

Mr Parker was previously employed as chief executive of Westminster City Council. During his tenure there, the children’s services department he ran with Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham councils secured the only ‘outstanding’ rating from inspectors Ofsted.

Last July, the inquiry released its damning report into Jersey’s child care standards since the end of the Second World War. The panel’s findings concluded that children may still be at risk in the Island.

Senator Gorst committed to implementing the eight core recommendations the inquiry made and has been developing an action plan to respond to the report. Mrs McMillan said that the actions set out in the plan were right but were ‘lacking pace’ and he said that early intervention for at-risk families needed to be improved.

During this week’s States sitting, Senator Gorst said that he made the decision following concerns raised by Mr Parker after visiting and reviewing facilities for children.

The Chief Minister added that there would be a fuller report within the next two weeks to ‘understand why it was that all the progress we are making in the policy unit was not filtering down’.

‘There can be no more important duty for us as a government than to protect the welfare of vulnerable children,’ he said. ‘It is clear that while progress has been made in reforming Children’s Services, the pace of change is still too slow, and it needs firm and committed leadership to pick up the pace of improvement.

‘I have therefore given the chief executive of the States direct oversight and accountability for Children’s Services, in order to ensure that our Island’s children get the quality of care they deserve.’

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