The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry on Tuesday (11 August) heard evidence from three witnesses about their time working with Children’s Services.
After qualifying as a Social Worker in 1984, the first witness, Mr Phil Dennett, worked in Bristol until 1989 when he moved to Jersey and took up a post as Senior Residential Care Officer at Heathfield Children's Home. In 1991 he became Joint Officer in Charge of Heathfield before moving into other managerial roles in 1999. He was eventually appointed Children's Executive Coordinator in 2004 and Director forChildren’s Services in 2011. He took voluntary redundancy in 2014.
Counsel to the Inquiry, Patrick Sadd, took Mr Dennett through his witness statement in which he talked about what it was like to work at Heathfield, where he took the lead in preventative work. He described the years he worked there as the happiest of his professional life.
He talked about some of the challenges of community care work, the detailed training needs, budgets, and the relationship he and his team had with the courts and schools in doing their preventative work. He described how the magistrates dealt with persistent offenders and the resulting impact on Les Chenes and commented that the Parish Hall system deflects a number of young people from the Criminal Justice System.
He also talked about the relationship between residential staff and field workers, referrals, child placements, workloads and how volunteers and former residents came to work in the home.
Mr Dennett told the Inquiry about some of the developments and policies he and a colleague introduced at Heathfield, particularly with regards to child protection in the late 1980s and 90s and how staff were supervised and supported. He described the Key Worker System, the handling of complaints and how case histories were chaired.
He described how he was promoted to Children's Service Manager during what he said was an intense period of change for Children's Services. He outlined the changes to management structure, the inception of the Placement Panel, funding and budgets, children’s homes inspections, lack of resources, complaints against staff, IT, the appointment of Simon Bellwood at Greenfields and his observations on the Bull, Breckon and CAMHS reports. He also explained how he dealt with certain internal complaints and allegations against staff.
He admitted there were frustrations and at times felt isolated and lacking in support. He described how he felt as though he was fire-fighting whilst trying to step back and do some clear strategic thinking.
In conclusion, Mr Dennett stated that going forward, it was vital for Jersey to continue to look at how it dealt with its most vulnerable population. He said that it started at the top and there had been a missed opportunity in not appointing a Minister for Children to stand up for them.
In the afternoon, Witness 729, Mrs ‘M’ responded to allegations made against her and other staff working at La Preference when it was a voluntary home.
Speaking anonymously, Mrs ‘M’ said the allegations against staff were implausible because if anything as serious as this had happened, there were enough staff around to have known about it.
Moving on to allegations made against her, Mrs 'M', who worked at the home for more than ten years, denied hitting a child with a cane. She said they certainly smacked bottoms but for older children punishments were more likely to include stopping them from going to the youth club.
She said she would have certainly raised her voice many times but refuted allegations of shouting and using food as a punishment.
Mrs 'M' said she did not remember children disclosing to her that they had been abused, but if any had done she would have reported it immediately. Since leaving the home, her work has involved her working closely with abused children and the more recent disclosures are the only ones she can now recall.
The former Director of Education, Mr John Rodhouse, resumed giving his evidence via video link from London. He began by clarifying some of the evidence given last Wednesday (5 August). He said he saw it as his duty to inform and advise the Education Committee on all areas of their responsibility and to lead and manage their staff. He said he had never claimed any expertise in social work but had some understanding of the situation of the children in care. He also said members of the Education Committee did not undervalue the work of Children's Services and fully recognised the status of the professional staff; in residential care, they wanted what they thought were the qualities of good parents - a liking for children, common sense and empathy.
He commented on the use of corporal punishment both in schools and children's homes, complaints of the use of excessive force from parents and some staff and the 1980 guidelines for the use of secure rooms.
Mr Rodhouse spoke about how moving towards the closure of Haut de la Garenne was a major political undertaking - and it took the weight of the Lambert & Wilkinson Report to drive the political effort.
He explained that the primary force in persuading the Education Committee of the need for a separate remand facility home like Les Chenes was because the Magistrate at that time was making considerable critical comments about children on remand going on to commit further offences.
He talked again about the relationship between the former Head of Children’s Services, Mr Charles Smith, and the Superintendent at HDLG, Mr Jim Thomson.
Mr Rodhouse outlined the issues concerning housing, staff recruitment and dealing with members of the Children's Sub-Committee.
He said he thought many of the weaknesses in the Children's Service in Jersey were the result of its history and the way it developed - largely in isolation from the United Kingdom. He spoke of the difficulty in getting all the agencies to work together,
Mr Sadd asked him about an incident concerning the death of a child in private foster care, his role in the development of a response to non-accidental injuries and budget management.
He also asked him about his knowledge of abuse. Mr Rodhouse registered his shock and disbelief at the allegations of abuse at HDLG and noted that no-one had brought anything to his attention even though he was easily accessible. He cited several examples of incidents involving abuse in schools and said if he had received any suggestion of child abuse at HDLG or elsewhere in Children's Services he would have dealt with them in a similar way. He detailed one particular incident about which he still felt very uncomfortable involving a volunteer youth worker who was fired but not reported to the Police on the direction of the Attorney General.
On retiring he recommended that steps should be taken to set up an integrated Social Services Department bringing together social work done by Public Health and Education.
In conclusion Mr Rodhouse said: "I have thought long and hard about my responsibility for what has happened. I trusted the people who worked under me and what I have read so far in the transcripts of this Inquiry indicates that my trust was misplaced. I am truly sorry."
Transcripts and supporting documents will be available in due course.
Public hearings resume 0930 tomorrow (Wednesday 12 August).