Thank you Mr President,
As Hon Members of this Court, we have to work our way through a considerable amount of reading material, most of which is relatively straightforward, but on a rare occasion there are papers, documents or Committee reports that make you pause, reflect and seriously consider their contents.
There are also certain reports and discussion points that shouldn’t by-pass this Honourable Court without due consideration or without a single word being spoken, and the recent Ofsted Inspection report into the Isle of Man Children’s Social Care Services is one such report in my opinion.
Now, I should declare the fact that I was in the Isle of Man Children’s Social Care Service as a “Ward of Court” as a child and a young teenager, and I should also declare that I was on the Independent Monitoring Board at the Secure Children’s Home for a number of years…
…so I make no apology that I have always fought hard for those children that do find themselves in social care on the island, and I will continue to do everything I can to help improve their lives during their time in care, but more importantly ensuring that they get the very best possible start in life as adults…
Although I had two very kind and special social workers supporting me during my troublesome teenage years, it is very clear that we were failing children back in 1985 when I left Social Care at the age of 16, and based on the findings from this recent Ofsted report it would appear that we are still failing children who are leaving social care on the Isle of Man here today.
I think BBC Isle of Man had the headline “Children in Care failed by Isle of Man Services”, and having read the findings from this report in more detail I would actually go further than the BBC by saying that the Ofsted report has brought to our attention some serious institutional failures, which cannot be ignored by this Hon Court….
…and I will highlight some of the failings in more detail in a few moments, because it a terrible indictment of the Isle of Man, the Manx Government, the Department of Health and Social Care and Manx Care.
Not everything in this Ofsted report is negative, and therefore I would like to start this general debate into Children’s Social Care services by highlighting some of the more positive points raised during the inspection of the island’s 11 children’s homes, including one secure children’s home back in April and May this year.
It is very clear from the inspection report that staff within the children’s home are very attentive and supportive and continue to show an ethos of nurturing, love and attention to the children in their care, which mirrored my own personal opinion and observation when I visited several of the island’s children’s homes a few years ago when I was the Children’s Champion.
The report also highlighted the fact that staff have a sound understanding of the children’s emotional well-being, which helps support the child to find a better way of coping with the emotion of being in social care, along with promoting their best interests due to the nature of island life.
I also hope that members took the opportunity back in 2020 to visit the Manx Museum when some of the artwork created by children in care on the island went on display under the title “Handmade Superheros”.
It was a very powerful project that gave a small insight into their own journey in social care, and as some of the artwork described – sometimes it can be fun, but sometimes it can be very difficult and dark when you find yourself in care.
Unfortunately, that is are about all of the positives I can find within this Ofsted report….
However, like to add a special thank you to the Corporate Parenting Strategy Group for an excellent presentation given to Tynwald Members on 8th November.
The group was founded on the principle that the Manx Government and that includes all Government departments collectively apply the same level of care that any good parents would provide for their own children.
The group is also asking for a commitment from all Tynwald Members and Government Employees to prioritise children and young people’s needs, listening to what they want and supporting them to make the most of their lives and opportunities.
As a member of this Hon Court I am more than happy to give that commitment here today, and I hope other colleagues will do the same…
What is clear from the rest of this inspection report by Ofsted is a series of failings…
…institutional failures in my opinion around the lack of legislation, guidance and a solid framework to promote the safety and wellbeing of children that find themselves in care on the island.
Manx Care’s response to some of those failings from within this report is to simply say that they will review them as part the Children and Young Persons Legislation in 2026!
That response is just not good enough, especially when no genuine progress has been made over the past five years…
The report also raises some major concerns around safeguarding and substance misuse, but what really drew my attention to the findings of this report initially was the significant gap that remains in the provision of suitable accommodation for children leaving care on the island, which was described by Ofsted as insufficient.
The increased risks around children in semi-independent living was also highlighted, especially ongoing concerns around drug and alcohol misuse, poor mental health and a serious risk of offending…
What upsets me greatly about these particular findings by Ofsted is the fact that a Tynwald Select Committee raised some of these concerns in this Hon Court on 17th October 2019, but it appears that nothing has changed over the past 4 years….
That is a clear failing on the part of this administration, and the previous one…
In November 2018, a Tynwald Select Committee was established to look into “Accommodation for Vulnerable Young People” on the island, and that Committee was chaired by Mr Tim. Baker, along with Mrs. Sharpe from Council who is the current Children’s Champion, and myself.
That Committee made a total of 21 recommendations that were debated at length in this Hon Court on 17th October 2019, and although some of those initial recommendations were amended by the Council of Ministers or Mrs Barber at the time, all 21 of those recommendations were fully supported and endorsed by this Hon Court.
During that debate, the Chairman of the Committee informed this Hon Court that “it is clear that how well we address the provision of accommodation for vulnerable young people on the Isle of Man will have a profound impact on their life chances”.
Having gone through the Social Care system as a young child and a teenager and then finding myself homeless for a short period at the age of 16 – I absolutely agree with that statement.
I have absolutely no doubt that if those 21 recommendations had been taken forward and implemented by the individual Departments over the past four years, which was the strong will of this Hon Court, then I am certain that we could have improved the lives of some of those children that have left the island’s Social Care service since 2019.
Unfortunately that is a failing on our part, and we have to take full responsibility for not putting sufficient pressure on those Departments to implement those recommendations from 2019 with urgency and speed.
It is our responsibility to ensure that the island’s Children’s Social Care services have the legislation, guidelines, support and the framework, in order to fully protect children in care from harm and exploitation, to support families in crisis, and to ensure that all children in our care have access to the necessary resources for their development, education, health and well-being.
I now call upon the Chief Minister, Council of Ministers, the Department of Infrastructure, Department of Health and Social Care and the Housing and Community Board to seriously look at those 21 recommendations again, and let’s get some positive change introduced over the next three years…
Just going through other sections of the Ofsted report there are also serious concerns around children in care not having a voice and that there are insufficient opportunities for children in care to be heard and seen, as there is a lack of effective oversight and scrutiny of children’s care.
The report goes further by saying that the “child’s voice is lost”…
The last four Children’s Champions on this island have all called for the urgent appointment of a Children’s Commissioner here on the Isle of Man, which was one of the original recommendations from the Mark Everall, KC inquiry report from 2006/07….
That was 17 years ago, and although lessons have been learnt and some services improved – the question remains…
…are children on the Isle of Man in social care still being exposed to too much risk, especially as young adults?
The Island Plan by the Government simply says that they will “consider the potential role, benefit and remit of a Children’s Commissioner and Child First Policy approach across Government”.
If nothing else, this report by Ofsted highlights very clearly that the Government’s policy for putting children first on the Isle of Man, especially for those children that find themselves in the social care, is totally failing….
…and these concerns must be addressed as a priority.
In August this year, my colleague Mrs Caine asked the Chief Minister “whether the potential remit for a Children’s Commissioner is under consideration”.
In response the Chief Minister said that “we continue to foster a good working relationship with the Children’s Champion, and that there are currently no plans for a Children’s Commissioner” on the Isle of Man.
I sincerely hope that the Chief Minister has taken the opportunity to read this Ofsted report since August, because the evidence from this report is overwhelming and clear…
…this island needs a non-political and independent Children’s Commissioner to be appointed as quickly as possible, in order to fight for the rights of all children on the island, and to give them a strong voice…
….in order to listen, promote and protect the human rights of children and young people across our island.
My focus and attention has always been on children in social care on the island, because of my own life’s journey…
…but I know that my colleagues Mrs Caine, Mrs Sharpe together with Mr Baker have always been great advocates for all children on the island, but each one of them has highlighted very strongly that the role of Children’s Champion on the island is far too restrictive.
A Children’s Commissioner would also ensure that the voices of children are heard and their interests are considered in policy making and decision making processes in the future, along with ensuring that their rights are upheld in areas such as society, education and social care.
I also want to raise the serious concerns around appropriate education, training or employment opportunities for children leaving social care.
The report rightly highlights that not all children are attending school or engaged in meaningful education, which is limiting their ability to achieve qualifications, which will affect their life choice.
Even 40 years on it is hard for me to describe to this Court how very different you feel and look when you are in social care or have been in social care, and unfortunately most of your time and energy is spent fighting to survive…
For some children that find themselves in social care, qualifications, education and career paths are secondary, and that isn’t their fault.
I was in my mid to late 20’s when I made a conscious decision to try to improve my career path and opportunities, and I was very fortunate that I was able to secure funding from the Manx Government time and time again over a number of years, because I certainly couldn’t afford the courses or the exam fees myself at the time…
The Island Plan again talks about “outstanding, lifelong, learning and development opportunities for all”.
I have also said on numerous occasions that every child leaving social care should have a clear pathway into further education, employment or apprenticeships, and that this Government should be doing far more to help children leaving social care by offering work experience, apprenticeships or training, in order to help lay down a solid foundation for a long and successful career path.
Especially when we are only talking about a handful of young adults each year….
So let’s make it a reality under this Government, and for this administration to be ready to step in and give those young adults a second, third or even a fourth chance to improve their lives…
I look forward to the rest of this general debate, and I hope that the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee will also be listening very closely to the remarks being made today, but more importantly noting the serious concerns that have been raised in this particular report by Ofsted.
- The Head of Services also managing allegations, which is a clear conflict of interest.
- Foster Care Recruitment on the island has been effectively on hold since 2018.
- Moving young adults into the Semi-Independence at 16 is far too early
- Children in Care have been left with no voice.
- Provision for Care Leavers very weak, under resourced and under developed.
- Clear lack of oversight.
These sections and others need to be improved as a priority.
Thank you Mr President.