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2020 Key risks and issues

A summary of the year 2020

During 2020, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office continued to focus on the three strategic aims identified in our 2019-2023 Strategic Plan 

These three aims are: Driving Change; Doing it the Right Way; and Proving it Can be Done.

Our planned work centred on four key programmes:

  • Making children’s rights a reality
  • Child friendly justice
  • Children outside of the classroom
  • Voices of children in care

Our unplanned work, however, was a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and meant that our planned work was reprofiled.

The outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 had a significant impact on our work throughout the rest of the year. From early March, the Children’s Commissioner worked with officials and Ministers to ensure that the impact of the pandemic on children’s lives was mitigated wherever possible.

During the initial stages of the Covid-19 crisis, members of staff were voluntarily placed on the staff redeployment register to help wherever needed. Two qualified social workers in the team were offered to redeploy to the Children’s Service to provide some staffing assistance. This offer was not taken up. The Executive Assistant was redeployed to a Government Covid team but, due to IT issues, was not able to carry out the work.

As the seriousness of the emergency became apparent, the Commissioner argued strongly that the Government must ensure plans were in place to protect vulnerable children whilst emergency legislation passed swiftly through the States Assembly. The Commissioner issued 30 reports in the form of formal advice, comment and briefings to Ministers and to Government Officials. For a comprehensive summary of this, see the Covid Timeline in our 2020 Annual Report.

Under the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Jersey) Law 2019, Article 25, Ministers have a duty to consult with the Children’s Commissioner where any proposed enactment directly concerns the rights of children or young people. The Children’s Commissioner then has a corresponding duty to advise when consulted. Unfortunately, however, during the pandemic, the Children’s Commissioner was not consulted on matters which were considered pertinent to the rights of children and young people, which meant that the relevant Ministers were potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Law.

On the occasions when the Children’s Commissioner was consulted, it was at the last minute, which meant that she was unable to fulfil the requirement to involve children and young people in her work. The resulting concern was that, without sufficient time for full scrutiny of the proposals, the Government were in danger of not respecting, fulfilling and protecting children’s rights. The Children’s Commissioner was not involved in emergency planning meetings that dealt with issues affecting the rights of children and young people, and again, was rarely consulted on matters.

In August 2020, a meeting was held between the Commissioner, the Chief Minister, the Children’s Minister and the Director General of SPPP. An apology was provided for any oversight, and an agreement was made that officials would engage with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner at the earliest opportunity in any future propositions.

Throughout the year, our work was reported to Government departments, Ministers and the States Assembly, and we received significant media coverage throughout the year as we campaigned for children’s rights to be at the forefront of all new regulations, services and changes to the normal routines of education. Our communications plan supported our work, and the resulting media attention supported our calls for the rights of children to be protected during the pandemic.

The Children’s Commissioner also provided written and oral evidence to several Scrutiny Panels over the course of 2020, as well as responding formally to Government consultations.

Throughout the year, the Commissioner and her team continued to meet with UK Children’s Commissioners and work collectively on a number of areas. A significant example of this was the work carried out with the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) on child rights impact assessments, and the contribution to the Committee on the Rights of the Child simplified reporting process through the ‘List of Issues Prior to Reporting’ (LOIPR), report which was published in November.

Programmes of work

Making children’s rights a reality

Despite the restrictions and pressures caused by the pandemic, the majority of this programme of work was completed during 2020. The workstreams included:

  • Legislative Gap Analysis – published October 2020: read it here
  • Our Life in Numbers – published November 2020: read it here
  • Life on the Rock – The final part of the project (engaging with the Children’s Advisory Group) was delayed due to the pandemic but was completed in early 2021. Due to be published Easter 2021
  • Children’s rights approach – this guidance was completed and will be published Easter 2021
  • Child rights training package – unlimited licences to a comprehensive child rights training package from Queens University Belfast has been procured, ready for roll out during 2021
  • List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR) – published November 2020. A 10,000-word report was submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, based on evidence from children and professionals, as well as on the findings of research. The Commissioner hosted eight workshops with children’s charities to ensure that civil society were able to contribute to the report. Read more about it here
  • Court judgments in public law – this project began in 2019 and was successfully completed in January 2020, with the first judgment ‘In the Matter of AA’ following new guidance. In addition this was the first public law case where the Commissioner used statutory powers to join as a party. The Commissioner’s evidence is reported in the judgment 
  • Provision of a lawyer in care proceedings – a data request established that the Greffe was unable to provide information on the number of proceedings that were held without a lawyer present. However, this project was delayed due to the pandemic and will be reprofiled during 2021.

Child friendly justice

This programme of work identified one workstream to be completed during 2020 – prevention and diversion. A roundtable discussion was held in January 2020 to present the project, and was well received. While desktop research was completed, the fieldwork, including observations of parish hall enquiries (PHEs), could not take place due to the impact of the pandemic. This work was reprofiled to take place during 2021. The suspension of PHEs ended in March 2021, and the work has been programmed to take place during the second quarter of 2021. In December 2020, the Commissioner organised a training day for Police and officials from the Children’s Service on adverse childhood experiences and trauma informed practice. An analyst from the Commissioner’s team worked with the Police to identify data and gaps in data on youth crime, and a ‘report card’ is due for publication in the second quarter of 2021.

Children out of the classroom

A roundtable discussion was held in January 2020 to present the project and was well received. Data on exclusions has been obtained and analysed by the Commissioner and shared with attendees. Research on best practice was provided and the project activity outlined. Due to the impact of the pandemic, the project could not be progressed. It will be reprofiled once Government restrictions are removed. The project will continue into 2021 and is likely to focus on loss of learning due to the impact of the pandemic.

Voices of children in care

Funding for a part-time participation worker to support the project was withdrawn due to the pandemic. The Day of General Discussion, due to be held at the United Nations in Geneva in September 2020, was postponed until September 2021. The project was reprofiled to enable care-experienced young people to take part in the project during 2021.

Key risks and issues during 2020

The Commissioner implements an accountability and governance framework which provides evidence and assurance on risk mitigation controls.

Here is a link to the accountability framework

The risk register provides the Commissioner, the Audit and Risk Advisory Panel members, and internal auditors the opportunity to test the accuracy, completeness and reliability of assumptions made, together with the sources of assurances. All projects are project-managed with project initiation documents, action plans, status reports and closure reports. These are shared and discussed at monthly team meetings.

The Audit and Risk Advisory Panel reviews, scrutinises and challenges the risk register and provides advice and support to the Commissioner.

The Commissioner has consulted widely to produce qualitative and quantitative research data that both informs policy and shapes the direction of the operational plan. This is further informed through regular audit of casework. The Commissioner, together with the Panel, regularly reviews and strengthens internal controls to address strategic risks, incorporating safeguarding, communications, data protection, governance, finance and business operations.

Risks are recorded in the risk register. The key strategic risks during 2020 were:

  • Operational delivery – rise in casework demand
  • Failure to effectively deliver our business plan due to the impact of the pandemic
  • Operational delivery – interim staffing arrangements

Implications of these risks were as follows:

  • We cannot meet the increased demand for support, and are regarded as ineffective
  • The rights of children are not promoted or protected
  • The organisation is unable to effectively deliver its work

Identified risks have mitigation controls including:

  • Robust business continuity plan
  • Flexible approach to implementation of the operational plan
  • Complete status reports on each project, identify risk, add mitigation where possible, review action plans
  • Focus on statutory functions to ensure care, support, and protection of children during national emergency
  • Home working and lone working policy reviews
  • DSE assessments for staff working from home
  • Data protection checks to ensure safe-keeping of confidential information at home
  • Covid survey - consulting widely to inform reprogramming of our operational plan and ongoing consultation with stakeholders
  • Recruitment of a highly skilled core and virtual team to further develop strategic capacity and staff restructure process
  • Excellent communications strategy
  • Monthly monitoring of demand and caseload of staff
  • Formal review of casework function in May 2020

Risks related to the pandemic were added to the risk register in March 2020 and the business continuity plan operated.

In mid-March 2020, in response to the pandemic, staff began working from home in line with lockdown restrictions. This has worked well, and the office has been able to continue to fulfil its operational responsibilities with minimal impact on efficiency. Demands on the organisation have increased as a result of the emergency, especially for casework, and a revised operational plan focusing on the priorities of vulnerable children during Covid-19 was developed.

In September 2020, a staff restructure process took place and resulted in a new permanent staffing structure for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. This provided additional capacity for participation and casework. It was anticipated that demands for casework would increase and that a further increase in capacity would be required during 2021.

In December 2020, the Children’s Minister resigned during a period of political instability. The Commissioner took the opportunity to advise the Chief Minister to split the shared role of Housing Minister and Children’s Minister. This advice was well received and led to the development of a new combined role of Education and Children’s Minister early in 2021.

The impact of the pandemic on children and young people’s lives will continue to be the key priority for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, and continues to be the key risk to our performance. We will be guided by the issues identified by children and young people in our joint survey with the Government of Jersey.

The annual report can be found here.

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