“I’M ANGRY. I’M UPSET. I’M ASHAMED” – COMMENT – LUCY STEPHENSON – JERSEY EVENING POST – JULY 13 2017
I’M angry. I’m upset. I’m ashamed. And above all else, I’m sorry. I wrote these words just a few short hours before Deputy Tracey Vallois stood up in the States and said something very similar. She explained that she was not sure if she’d be able to give her whole speech without breaking into tears.
She was speaking during last week’s in-committee debate on the findings of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, which published its final report nine days ago.
And the Deputy’s feelings that she went on to explain during that speech are reflective of the response many Islanders her age will have had to the inquiry’s findings.
Until now we have all considered abuse in the Jersey care system to be a thing of the past, perhaps from before we were even born, certainly from before we became adults and starting being responsible within our community.
The blame, therefore, rested with previous governments, the services and systems of the past, and with a different generation. It was a naïve view, perhaps, but a natural one. It didn’t mean we did not acknowledge that abuse had occurred, nor that we did we not accept the seriousness of it. It just meant we were a generation removed, and thought we were less affected.
But the findings of the inquiry gave us all a wake-up call because it concluded that, contrary to what previous reports commissioned by the States may have found (which in themselves raise serious questions that need to be addressed), children in Jersey may still be at risk from a care system which is not ‘fully fit for purpose’.
It is a damning indictment, and a worrying one, particularly in an Island that is wonderful in so many ways, relatively wealthy and promoting itself around the world as a top-class place to live and do business.
And it is a state of affairs that all adults, young and old, have to take responsibility for because it is no longer good enough to say that it happened on someone else’s watch, or even that it was nothing to do with us personally.
There are so many people identified by the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry as having been at fault in the past, even if the inquiry itself does not apportion blame. And the removal of front-line States employees criticised in the document who were still in post sent out a bold and important message.
But Deputy Tracey Vallois and co have been in positions of power while this situation has continued. I’ve been in a job where I am privileged to be able to help expose injustice and raise issues of public interest and even, hopefully, help to change things for the better. And we have all probably been neighbours, friends, relatives, co-workers or exercise buddies with someone who has been affected, even just a little bit, by some of the issues raised in this report, even if we did not necessarily realise it.
We’ve all been part of a community that has allowed this to happen, not just happen to us. It is no longer good enough to blame others, a previous generation or a different time because doing so threatens to let down a whole new generation of children, and that cannot be allowed to happen.
Jersey has failed children before, and, although the institutions, staff, systems and social norms may now be different, history cannot repeat itself.
The greatest tribute we can now pay to those who suffered in the past is to listen to the inquiry and, most importantly, work together to implement its recommendations on whatever levels we can.
Serious questions, obviously, also need to be asked about why a system has been allowed to prevail that potentially means children are still at risk.
Community engagement in the short and long terms is crucial, and the public at large have an important role to play in holding those in power to account to ensure that they do follow up on all of the recommendations and all of the issues that the inquiry has raised and exposed.
In the past report after report after report has been commissioned, given some findings and come up with some recommendations, some of which have been followed up on.
But we all stopped asking questions and following up on them too soon.
This newspaper’s headline the day after the inquiry’s report was out read simply: ‘Jersey’s shame’. And I now realise just how true that is – for all of us.