Senator Sam Mézec is Jersey's First Minister for Children.
Eighteen months ago I was invited to join a delegation from Jersey to Edinburgh to meet with care experienced people, campaigners, politicians and the Scottish Children's Commissioner. I was chairman of the Care of Children in Jersey Parliamentary Select Committee at the time, and I jumped the opportunity because I knew how important it was for Jersey to learn from other jurisdictions about how we can improve our services here. Particularly as we had just had a public inquiry which had laid bare the failings which had taken place in our care system in Jersey over decades.
The night before our meetings in Edinburgh I thought about what I wanted to get out of this experience. Because it was my job to scrutinise the government, I found myself focused on points of technical detail, how systems were administered and the legislation. The next day, as we began to hear from young people and those who work closely with them, I realised that the focus was actually going to be a lot more meaningful than I expected. Instead, we spoke about what it meant to be a corporate parent, and why it matters so much to young people in care that they are treated with love and respect. I thought about my experience growing up with my family, and how people in positions of responsibility have a duty to ensure that every young person our organisations encounter is treated in the way we would want our own children to be treated.
That evening there was a dinner hosted by a group of young adults with experience of care, where we had an opportunity hear directly from young care experienced people. It was incredibly moving and left me utterly convinced that people in Jersey needed to hear these stories and have that perspective-changing experience that I had had if we were to move forward. It was agreed at the end of that day that we would invite our new friends in Scotland to come to Jersey.
Since that visit I was appointed Jersey's First Minister for Children, and several of the young people who came on that trip with us have gone on to become fantastic ambassadors and leaders in the work we are trying to do to put children first in Jersey.
When the return visit happened, I was so pleased to see the workshops which were held were highly subscribed, with a wide variety of people from government and the voluntary sector attending. I know that everyone there will have really benefited from hearing about the work which is going on in Scotland, and how policies are being changed.
But crucially, Jersey politicians were invited in the evening to meet our friends from Scotland and our young leaders, to hear their incredibly moving stories of their experiences and how many of them had faced systems whilst growing up which treated them like numbers on a spreadsheet, rather than children who ought to be genuinely cared for and valued.
One story in particular which affected me was hearing from someone who had been separated from his sister whilst in care. I grew up with three sisters and cannot imagine how crushed I would have felt to have been separated from them. I am determined that no one in Jersey should have to face that situation.
From speaking to my colleagues, I know how impressed they were with the young people who spoke. This will have reinvigorated them to play their part in our journey to transform how we care for the most vulnerable in our society.
I am extremely grateful to Jersey Cares and to CELCIS for making this happen.