Children in the care system in Jersey continue to be put at risk, a shocking report into the sexual and physical abuse of hundreds of children on the island has concluded.
The Jersey care home inquiry, which exposed failings within the care home system going back to the end of the second world war, severely criticised the island’s politicians for failing children in their care over last 70 years.
It claimed that in some instances the island’s leaders were more concerned about preserving the “Jersey way” – its age-old traditions – than making sure its most vulnerable children were cared for.
The report (pdf) called for one of the symbols of the abuse, the Haut de la Garenne children’s home – dubbed the “house of horror” in the media – to be demolished. But it also made it clear that it did not believe these were simply historic failings.
The inquiry, chaired by Frances Oldham QC, said it had been told by foster carers that the island had “not learned any lessons whatsoever, no matter how many SCRs [serious case reviews] have occurred”.
New managers arriving just three years ago found a management style within the residential sector that was “not conducive to keeping children safe”.
The inquiry’s report said: “They found children at risk in the community … Young people currently in the care system told us that they feel that they have no effective mechanism for making representations or raising concerns. They told us that they are not being listened to.”
The report added: “We believe that, as late as the end of the inquiry’s hearings, aspects of Jersey’s services for children remained not fully fit for purpose. In the light of all the evidence that it has heard, the panel considers that children may still be still at risk in Jersey and that children in the care system are not always receiving the kind or quality of care and support that they need.”
On Haut de la Garenne, which has been shut down, the report said: “We believe that the buildings are a reminder of an unhappy past or shameful history for many people.”
It recommended that “consideration be given as to how the buildings can be demolished and that any youth or outdoor activity or services for children located on the site should be in modern buildings bearing no resemblance to what went before”.
Jersey’s chief minister, Senator Ian Gorst, apologised to the victims. “Too often, children were not believed. Unpalatable truths were swept under the carpet because it was the easiest thing to do,” Gorst said. “I am deeply sorry – we did not do what we should have done. People cared more for the status quo, for a quiet life, than for children.”
Gorst acknowledged that the report said children may still be at risk. “I will not rest until we have done all that we can do to change that. I accept every recommendation and pledge to build a new culture: one which puts children first every time.”
The inquiry said that for decades there were persistent failures at all levels in the management, operation and governance of children’s homes in Jersey. The States of Jersey, the island’s parliament and government, proved to be an “ineffectual and neglectful substitute parent” for children already disadvantaged in life.
It also found that some children were put into care without lawful basis, including for petty theft and for being rude. And it found that, once in care, children, some of whom suffered physical and sexual abuse, were “effectively abandoned in the care system” and “left powerless for decades”.
The report said there was a long absence of political and professional will in Jersey to monitor care standards. It discovered:
- Secure rooms were used routinely and excessively against children.
- Many victims felt unable to speak out through fear of not being believed.
- There was a failure to value, listen to and nurture children in the care system.
- Until the 1990s, there was no system for victims to report abuse.
Lawyer Alan Collins, who represents 200 people who say they were abused in Jersey homes, said: “The inquiry has thrown down the gauntlet to the States of Jersey, lawmakers and politicians to make serious changes to child protection fit for the 21st century. The report comprehensively addresses a series of issues that were a concern, and in many cases remain to be so.”
The island’s former police chief Graham Power called for the UK government to step in – though Jersey is self-governing. He said: “The situation needs robust external intervention.”
Another former senior officer, Lenny Harper, said: “Every time the States of Jersey became involved in the running of a care home the care of children dipped alarmingly. It’s a total vindication for all those people who bravely gave evidence about the abuse they suffered.”
The £23m inquiry heard evidence of a culture that involved the protection of powerful interests and resistance to change, and a pervasive culture of fear that deterred whistleblowers.
“We consider that an inappropriate regard for the ‘Jersey Way’ has inhibited the prompt development of policy and legislation concerning children,” the report said. “Treating children in the care system as low priorities fails those children and shames the society concerned.”
The difference between Jersey’s haves and have-nots was highlighted as a problem.
The inquiry, which examined the care system in Jersey from the mid-1940s onwards, heard how children suffered abuse, emotional cruelty and neglect at the hands of unsuitable carers.
It said: “In summary, we have found a worrying history of both inappropriate and ineffectual state intervention and state indifference. Children have, at times, been removed from families without a statutory basis or for seemingly inconsequential reasons.”
It was not only Haut de la Garenne that was criticised in the report. It said that a Roman Catholic orphanage called Sacré Coeur – where former residents said they were sexually and physically abused – ran for 70 years before there was any state inspection. A home run by the Vegetarian Society for 33 years that punished children caught eating meat was only inspected once, in 1981.
The report said that there were no mechanisms in place for children to leave care.
A string of recommendations were made in the report, including the appointment of a commissioner for children to ensure independent oversight of the interests of children and young people in Jersey and the introduction of an effective complaints system overseen by a children’s rights officer.