14 November 2008
The ministers with responsibility for Jersey’s child protection arrangements have described a report on the island’s youth justice system as “well-considered and constructive”. The Ministers for Education Sport and Culture, Home Affairs and Health and Social Security say the report from the Howard League for Penal Reform is very much in line with the Andrew Williamson report, whose recommendations have all been accepted and will be implemented through a detailed plan which will be published in the New Year.
Senators Mike Vibert and Jim Perchard and Deputy Andrew Lewis are pleased the Howard League’s report found much to commend in Jersey’s youth justice system, including the parish hall enquiry system, the Youth Service, the Probation Service and the early prevention work of the Bridge.
The Assistant Minister for Health and Social Services, Senator Jim Perchard, says – “Many of the Howard League’s proposals mirror those in the Williamson report which are already in the process of being introduced. We view this as a validation of the policies for children which we are already working on.
“We have started the process of signing up to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and are well on the way towards implementing plans for a new whistle-blowing policy, independent inspection, a lead minister for children and an independent advocacy system.
“Some of the report’s recommendations will require both professional and political debate, but they all provide a helpful contribution to the development of Jersey’s children’s services.”
Looking at some of the report’s recommendations in detail: -
Work is already underway to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The States of Jersey first needs to pass regulations which govern the working hours of children. A report and Green Paper was presented to the States in October, and is out for consultation. It’s hoped the States will be able to debate the issue in the Spring of 2009.
Ministers are pleased that the Howard League is recommending a 'lead Minister' for Children's Services. This was a recommendation of the Andrew Williamson Inquiry and it was accepted by the Council of Ministers at that time. Plans are now being drawn up to set up such a role.
The Andrew Williamson Inquiry also recommended improving the whistle-blowing arrangements for both young people and care staff, and detailed arrangements are being drawn up to achieve this. The Ministers agree that a robust whistle-blowing policy is an important component of governance in this area of social care.
The introduction of independent inspection arrangements was another recommendation made by Andrew Williamson, which has been accepted by the States of Jersey. Ministers and senior officials from the Health and Social Services Department have arranged to meet senior representatives of both the Scottish Social Work Inspection Agency and Ofsted, to explore whether these highly respected agencies can carry out inspections in the Island.
The Andrew Williamson report has already recommended setting up an independent children’s advocacy system and detailed proposals for this are part of the implementation plan which will be published in the New Year. This would also enable young people to be consulted about the way they are looked after in custody and care.
Ministers are delighted that the Howard League has recommended strengthening the Parish Hall Enquiry system, as this is something they feel strongly about and have already included in the action plan draw up as part of the 2007 criminal justice policy.
The introduction of an independent prosecution service was debated by the States Assembly in November 2007, but members decided this was not needed as the island already employs professional prosecutors when needed (in Youth and Magistrate's Courts for contested and complex cases, and in Royal Court).
Changes to the youth court are already on the agenda and ministers will be watching how a new Children’s Hearing system being introduced in Guernsey works in a comparable jurisdiction.
As an alternative to custody, ministers are keen to develop the successful drive to increase fostering and adoption by introducing remand fostering. And the holding of children and young people is a complex issue, combining the need to use resources appropriately and to offer the right standard of care to a variety of age groups and differing needs of young people.
The raising of the age of criminal responsibility is an important issue that would require a wide public debate. Any changes to the current system would need to balance the interests of young people with those of the wider community.
In conclusion, ministers are pleased that the Howard League supports much of Jersey’s ongoing work to improve children’s services, and that they found so many positive initiatives to highlight.
They will now conduct a considered review of this latest report, and draw up an action plan after a thorough examination of its implications.
Notes to Editors:
For further information, please contact Senator Jim Perchard on 07797 719355.
The Howard League visited the island in May to examine the child protection systems currently in place. The visit was facilitated by the three States departments involved in children’s services – Education, Sport and Culture; Home Affairs and Health and Social Services.
The terms of reference for the Howard League’s visit were mutually agreed as follows –
• To examine existing policies and procedures to safeguard the welfare and wellbeing of children in the penal system in Jersey and to make recommendations about how these may be improved.