Time and priorities in The States of Jersey.
In response to my post, ‘Anatomy of a Spin – Temps Passé #1’, Tonyb posted a comment in which he said the Christmas speech I gave was ‘over-long’, too much ‘sack-cloth and ashes’ and that the speech suggested that all States members were responsible for all cases of abuse. He also asked if I thought that all examples juvenile criminality were linked to child abuse.
These are interesting and serious questions, so I thought I would do a brief post to try and answer them.
It is true that the Jersey Evening Post did print the speech – but this most certainly was not because of some community-spirited desire to ensure that this recognition of the victims was made known.
Given that the frankly deranged actions of States members and the Bailiff had led to such a huge controversy, the JEP, in truth, had little choice other than to print it for the sake of whatever tatty fragments of credibility remain attached to The Rag.
There was also the small matter of needing to appear to be balanced – having wanted to print the editorial comment – which had all the hallmarks of a John Averty special – given it was a few clowns short of a circus.
Over-long? No, I don’t believe so. Consider – how many hundreds – thousands? – Of hours has the States assembly spent on ‘government reform’ debates? Or States members’ car parking? Even dog licences have received more attention in the States assembly than have abuse survivors.
Too much ‘sack cloth and ashes’? Again, sorry – I don’t agree. Having met so many victims, people whose age-range covers 13 to 65, listened to them, having learnt not only of the abuse they suffered, but also the often dreadful, continuing consequences upon their lives, if anything, the speech could very easily have been far more intense.
Remember – this systemic culture of contempt, disregard for, and maltreatment towards vulnerable children has been a feature of public administration for at least six decades – and that’s at least. The speech I was attempting to give represented the very first time ever an elected member of the States had expressed recognition of what had taken place and to attempt to demonstrate some compassion towards the victims.
So, my speech was long and uncomfortable? Maybe so – but spending 40 years in and out of mental health institutions, and gripped by substance misuse, the years of self-harm, the stretches in prison – all of these things are unpleasant and difficult to endure – as many of the abuse survivors would attest.
But, by way of contrast – 15 minutes listening to a speech – this is just far too much to expect States members to endure.
Tonyb suggested that I gave the impression that all examples of juvenile crime were caused by abuse. He asked me if this is what I meant. No, it isn’t – and nor did my speech say that it was.
However – because of the failure of society to properly analyse the causes of dysfunction amongst children, none of us could, frankly, be certain of the percentages. I would, though, hazard a guess that a majority of children who commit crime are doing so because of the dysfunctions of modern society – the consequent dysfunctions manifested in families – and a consequent need to forge their own identities and lives in a response to the societal and familial vacuum around them.
We also need to be clear as to what constitutes ‘abuse’. Abuse takes many forms and across a wide spectrum of degree. At one end of the scale we have actions which many people would not consider abuse – yet are abusive and harmful to children. For example, neglect, emotional abuse, malnourishment – things as basic as parents never having real conversations with their children or speaking with them as though they were more important than watching the next episode of East Enders or getting to the golf club. At the other extreme, we have cases which attract national media coverage, such as Victoria Climbie tragedy. Locally – I would – without question – place the case of the child victim of 18 months of abuse for which two paedophiles were convicted in a very similar category. Here too, we have to consider what was a total and disastrous systemic failure by all relevant Jersey agencies to help this victim. Before and during the episode of abuse – opportunity after opportunity was missed; different agencies had chances to spot the dangers, to spot the symptoms of abuse, to rescue the child – all failed until the victim had undergone 18 months of abuse.
This brings me to the question of whether I consider the States to be to blame for many of these things? Yes – I certainly do. Not fully – no government can legislate against the existence of dangerous maniacs; nor mitigate entirely the societaly destructive nature of modern economies; nor really get to the very starting point of most dysfunction – the family unit.
But are the States to blame for those failings within their power to address?
Consider – and this is merely one example: a majority of States members voted to have me dismissed. The central ground for this action against me was that I was supposedly “undermining staff morale” – by getting very angry at things like the 18 month failure to detect abuse I describe above – and demanding of very well-paid senior managers that they start doing their damn jobs properly.
As the evidence demonstrates, these self-same civil servants then set about engineering my dismissal – in order to protect themselves and hide their many gross failings.
If a majority of States members weren’t generally ambling around in a torpor – going from one PowerPoint presentation to another – and pretending that this equates to doing work – had they applied some rudimentary thought – had they done a little research – they would have sent a clear message to Frank & Co that, actually, the decades of failure, utter incompetence – and worse – on the part of Jersey’s child protection apparatus had to end; – “Damn “staff morale” – the service does not exist for the benefit of those who work in it – it exists for the clients. If these very expensive managers cannot rescue a child from 18 months of abuse; if they see nothing whatsoever problematic in using coercive and punitive solitary confinement against children for days, and even months at a stretch – this nearly two decades after the Pindown scandal in the UK – then it is they we are going to sack – not the Minister because he has “undermined their morale”.
As I said in an earlier post, the “mistake” – though obviously, it wasn’t – I made was to be on the “wrong” side. Mangers versus victims? The abused versus those whose idleness and incompetence had failed to rescue them from abuse? I sided with the victims. Listened to them – believed them. The senior civil servants had to get rid of me from that instant.
If the States were not culpable; if the States were to exhibit some leadership and understanding, they would have recognised the very clear and obvious fact that the engineering of my dismissal was yet another symptom – yet another example – of the services being out of control, unaccountable and invulnerable – the very culture which has led to decade after decade of abuse going largely unreported and unpunished.
It’s not as though most States members could even claim ignorance of these machinations. Notwithstanding Phil Bailhache’s unlawful obstruction of the formal printing of my Official Comments in response to the dismissal proposal, a photocopy of my response was distributed.
In this documentation – as one of the appendices – was the proof that the letter sent to Frank Walker demanding my dismissal, and signed by his friend Iris Le Feuvre – was, in fact, largely authored by the Directorate Manager of Social Services, Marnie Baudains – perhaps the most culpable of all senior officers for the many gross failings in child protection.
As I said – States members had this evidence in front of them – yet a substantial majority of them clearly concluded that the unprofessional gross misconduct involved on the part of a senior civil servant who, in order to protect their own position, set about political manoeuvrings to have their Minister sacked – was of trifling concern, compared to “undermining staff morale”.
Understand this: no other democratic, respectable legislature on the face of the planet would have taken this approach: – clear-cut evidence in black and white that a senior civil servant was a party to engineering the dismisal of a Minister in an attempt to hide their own deficiencies? “Well, we don’t care about that – what matters is that we mustn’t “undermine the managers’ morale”, the poor dears.”
So – a substantial majority of States members to blame for maintaining and continuing the culture failure towards vulnerable children?
By acting as they did, the States of Jersey simple embarked upon another wretched episode in the culture of concealment.
Book of the Post:
My Story: “A Child Called It”, “The Lost Boy”, “A Man Named Dave”, by by Dave Pelzer.
Joke of the Post:
When is a Nurse perfectly competent to do Social Work? — When the Social Worker wants three weeks off.