By Elaine Walker, Associate Director in CYPES and Head of the Children’s Day Steering Group
It’s almost three weeks since around 8,000 children, young people and families packed into Howard Davis Park to celebrate Jersey Children’s Day, and it’s amazing to still hear Islanders talk about it so positively. A lovely letter to the editor was published in the Jersey Evening Post, yesterday, from a tourist who has been visiting Jersey for 20 years. The “happy visitor” congratulated and thanked all the organisers of the event, which brought back happy memories for their family.
Like many Islanders who know the significance behind Children’s Day, it’s an occasion which is very close to my heart. Children’s Day connects my journey from journalism to the Government of Jersey and why I endeavour, every day, with so many colleagues, to try and make a difference to the lives of children, young people and families in Jersey.
But before I share with you why Children’s Day should never be forgotten let me briefly explain its background and what this day means to some survivors.
Children’s Day was created following a recommendation made by the Citizens’ Panel which was established after the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (IJCI). The IJCI published its final report of the failings in Jersey’s childcare system over many decades on 3 July 2017. As a result, the Panel called for 3 July, or as close to that date as possible, to be Jersey’s Children’s Day to remember the past and a day to look to the future.
Reporting at the time, for the Jersey Evening Post, on such harrowing stories and hearing the most heart-breaking cases never leaves you.
When the Government of Jersey advertised for a role to help communicate the response to the Care Inquiry’s recommendations I applied and was successful. Although it took a while for me to adjust to the other side of the news, I quickly found my new path in the former Government building at Cyril Le Marquand House.
In 2018, the Government of Jersey commissioned a Citizens’ Panel to make a set of recommendations to honour the survivors and determine how Jersey should remember.
They recommended that Jersey Children’s Day should provide activities that celebrate childhood and family life, as well as opportunities to remind children and young people that they should always be able to express themselves and share their opinions at any time. The Day was to also centre on educating children, young people and families about children’s rights and how they should not be afraid to speak out.
One of the most poignant days for me was Sunday, 21 November 2021. I was invited, with other Government officials, to attend a private meeting with the Citizens’ Panel, ahead of publishing their final report as their work was coming to a close.
The Panel delivered a mix of emotional and extremely powerful presentations, which held the room’s attention in complete silence.
Members of the Panel reflected on their work asking: ‘How can the people of Jersey best remember the past abuse of children while in the Island’s care system?’
The Panel shared their thoughts on progress on a recommendation for a Jersey Children’s Day. In 2020 Jersey Children’s Day was marked with children and young people invited to plant a tree in their school or community. However, the Panel still felt we could go further, feeding back that “a lot more needs to be done to ensure Children’s Day is not forgotten”.
One of the first priorities of the new Chief Officer of the Department for Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) Rob Sainsbury was to set up a working group to respond to the recommendation of the Citizens’ Panel about Jersey Children’s Day.
As the then Head of Communications for CYPES, I was honoured to be given the responsibility of creating and leading a Children’s Day Steering Group in partnership with Cheyenne O’Connor from an independent survivors group.
We launched a survey in which 300 children, young people and their families responded setting out what they would like to see at Children’s Day.
The only issue was that we had about six weeks to plan the first public celebration – following the lifting of Covid restrictions.
In those six weeks we managed to organise two free family events at Millbrook Park and Howard Davis Park, with around 6,000 attending. To see thousands of children, young people and families pack into the parks and enjoy a day of free activities was heart-warming and showed just how much it meant for the community to be back together after Covid.
This year we held the event at Howard Davis Park, which attracted a record 8,000. The event, organised by the Jersey’s Children’s Day Steering Group, alongside survivors, CYPES and Government officials, Skills Jersey events team, Youth Service and NSPCC, was a huge success – if the number of smiles on children’s faces is anything to go by!
Children’s Day was supported by almost 50 charities, community organisations and businesses, who provided free entertainment, activities, information, and advice. A hardworking, dedicated and passionate team of around 30 volunteers pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable day.
Around 100 young people provided six hours of live entertainment during the event – organised by Youth Arts Jersey – including performances from the Jersey Scout Association, and Love Theatre.
Children’s Day is a testament of the incredible community spirit that shines throughout Jersey and demonstrates the powerful message from survivors that “it takes an Island to raise a child”.
And while many colleagues and Islanders have shown their appreciation and thanks for the event, I will leave you with the best piece of feedback we, the government, could have received. These words came from one of the original Citizens’ Panel members as a survivor: “To see our dream for Children’s Day come to life in front of my eyes was absolutely wonderful.”
For more information about Jersey Children’s Day and see a list of all our supporters, in 2023, visit: Jersey Children’s Day (gov.je)