The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry on Thursday (13 August) heard evidence about Children’s Services through from the 1980s.
Mrs Dorothy Woods qualified as a teacher and worked in two secondary schools in the UK. She subsequently qualified as a social worker in the UK in 1977 and worked for Durham and then Gateshead Social Services. She moved to Jersey in 1980 to work as a Child Care Officer, then Play Therapist and finally a Senior Practitioner until 2007.
Counsel to the Inquiry, Mr Patrick Sadd, took Mrs Woods through her witness statement. She recounted how, before her interview she was shown around some of Jersey’s care institutions, including Haut de la Garenne, and remembered being unsettled and shocked by what she saw and felt the island was not up to standard.
She initially turned down the position over concerns about residential provision and the size of the caseload, but changed her mind after the Children’s Officer, Charles Smith, told her he was "hell-bent on making changes".
Mrs Woods said there was an acknowledgement that HdlG was not a good model and the hope was to move on and provide smaller units of accommodation, develop fostering and take the service forward. She said there was no indication it would happen overnight, but she was asked to be part of that process.
Her first caseload was about 100 children and she described how she managed it and did the best she could.
She talked about the system of welfare support for families in Jersey, how some children were taken into care simply to enable the family to survive financially and the merits of the Parish welfare system. She spoke of the institutionalisation of children at HdlG, the demarcation between those working in residential settings and field workers and the need to understand each others' roles better - which she said did happen over the years.
Mrs Woods a;lso gave details about management, training, how children were cared for and developed, and how in 1980, she felt HdlG should be shut down as children were not being managed properly. She said she focussed her efforts on trying to move children away from HdlG via fostering and adoption. She said there was a lack of vacancies at Family Group Homes.
She outlined her concerns about the approach and attitude towards the use of detention rooms at HdlG and cited examples of when it was used and the reasons why children would run away.
She commented on various aspects of some of the external reports that had been generated when reviewing Children's Services - including the Pilling and Lambert & Wilkinson Reports.
Mrs Woods stated there was a change to the system in the 1990s when it became far more accountable, things were set in stone and it was far more inclusive in that it included other professions, parents, foster parents and the child.
She talked about how the department she'd joined in 1980 did not reflect the department by the end of the 1980s. There had been an expansion and a development in all different avenues of the Service and that was down to the management of the time responding to the needs.
She explained that more and more emphasis was placed on training – particularly for residential workers. This, she said, was the beginning of breaking down of some of the barriers and helped everyone to look at different ways of working with children. She was asked to comment on other witnesses telling the IJCI there was no or very little training provision for residential care staff by Children's Services.
She reflected on two cases involving young girls who were pregnant and decisions made by the Education Committee for terminations to go ahead on medical grounds. At the time terminations were otherwise illegal in Jersey. On other occasions, she said young girls in care were supported with their pregnancies.
Mrs Woods also mentioned her dismay at the way migrant communities were regarded at the time and how racist comments were directed against non-Jersey-born residents.
She listed some of the changes in the 1980s; the introduction of a Fostering Officer and changes to the management system including the appointment of Anton Skinner as Children's Officer. She outlined the establishment and work of the Child Protection Team (CPT) of which she was a member. She said the team worked very well together and talked about what they did when they came across a suspected case of abuse or disclosure made to that individual.
She recalled events in 1990 surrounding the abuse allegations by two members of Blanche Pierre staff against Alan and Jane Maguire. She said she was absolutely horrified and quite shocked by what she heard and immediately went and saw the Children’s Officer, Mr Anton Skinner. He said to leave the matter with him and he would deal with it. She said there was no mention to her of involving the CPT, the Police or whether the children were safe.
She recalled that Child Care Officers were horrified by the decision to redeploy Jane Maguire and were outraged by newspaper coverage praising the Maguires. She described a brief informal formal meeting between some of the Child Care Officers and Mr Skinner, in which they voiced their concerns and feelings about the matter. There was an equal feeling of dissatisfaction and disbelief amongst the Child Care Officers about the decision to allow the Maguires to foster a child and those directly involved with the process expressed their concerns. She said she had no involvement in the criminal trial that was aborted but was interviewed by Dylan Southern in 1999 as part of the internal disciplinary investigation into Jane Maguire.
Mrs Woods went on to talk about her career in the late 1990s and courses that she went on concerning child protection - some of which she funded herself. She left the service in 2007.
She was also given the opportunity to respond to evidence pertaining to her that had been provided by other witnesses to the Inquiry.
In conclusion, she denied a suggestion that she had a "rose-tinted view" of the Jersey care system. She said she had a long and varied career with lots of different experiences. She said she believed Children's Services had endeavoured to provide children with the best possible service within the constraints of political and legislative resources, budget and the culture of the time.
She said: "My career as a Child Care Officer in Jersey spanned 27 years. I have had the privilege of working with colleagues who are enthusiastic, supportive, committed to the children and young people and have embraced change."
She asked the Inquiry Panel to remain child focussed and to try and endeavour to ensure that the voice of the child is heard and that Jersey invests in its children for as long as they need it – not just until they are 18.
Later, Inquiry Counsel, Mr Paul Livingston, reminded the Panel that over the past four months they had heard live witness evidence from those working in all of the children’s homes operating in Jersey over the relevant period, visitors to those homes, Child Care Officers, senior members of Children’s Services and Directors of Education. This had included those accused of abuse, those who say that they saw or were told of abuse and those who say that they were not aware of abuse.
He said that in addition to this oral evidence, the Inquiry had collated the most relevant non-oral evidence in relation to this phase. This primarily consisted of witness statements given to the police by individuals working within the care system, as well as some other documents.
The evidence was largely in relation to those deceased, those who the Inquiry were not able to call because they live outside of Jersey and were unwilling to give evidence and those who the Inquiry had considered that the most efficient and proportionate way of hearing their evidence was to do so in purely documentary form.
He said it would allow the Panel and the public to consider the breadth of evidence received from those working within the care system and will enable the use of these documents in the final report.
All of this documentation will be made available to the public via this website, along with an index for each batch that sets out the documents contained within.
Full transcript and supporting documents of the day's proceedings will be available in due course.