Shaping children’s social care in Northern Ireland

Last week, Home for Good submitted a response to a consultation launched by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland which seeks views on the recommendations made by the Review of Children’s Social Care Services. Our submission was shaped by the views of foster carers, adoptive parents and those with lived experience of the care system in Northern Ireland whose perspectives we gathered when we convened a roundtable in early November. Their insights into the recommendations proposed have directly informed the positions set out within our response, which you can read here.

This consultation appraises the suite of recommendations set out by Professor Ray Jones, appointed to undertake a review of how children’s social care services in Northern Ireland could be reshaped to operate more effectively. His final report, published in June 2023, made 53 recommendations to the Department, including a headline recommendation to establish a new Children and Families Arms Length Body to oversee children’s social care. His recommendations emerged from extensive consultation across Northern Ireland where Professor Jones heard from families, children, young people, social workers and other professionals about the current challenges in the system and solutions to address them.

Home for Good welcomes the approach of the Review in listening to those with direct experience and interaction with the system which underpins our own approach to advocacy and calling for systemic change. We also welcome the speed at which the Department is responding to the Review which demonstrates the appetite to ensure it leads to action, despite the lack of a sitting Assembly at present.

Our response to the Review welcomes many of the recommendations made, including the need to refocus the system towards supporting families more effectively (including birth, adoptive, foster and kinship families), the importance of peer support for foster carers and the need to remove the ‘care cliff’ and ensure young people transitioning towards independence remain supported by important adults in their life.

However, we also highlighted a number of areas where the recommendations should go further and offered our support in making this a reality. This includes the need to ensure that a culture of valuing foster carers for the vital role they play as part of the ‘team’ around children goes beyond a principle and leads to tangible change in practice. In addition, we emphasised that in developing plans to introduce the Arms Length Body to oversee children’s social care, there should be ongoing, regular consultation with those in the care system to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. The pace of change should be decided carefully to balance the pressing need for reform with the preparation, feedback and implementation required to ensure the new system is as effective as possible. We also welcomed the recommendation made to ensure that children and young people leaving the care system have an identifiable adult to journey with them. We cautioned that there should be an openness to the range of individuals who could play this role and the young person should have agency to decide who this adult is and the role they want them to play.

We wish to extend our gratitude to those who participated in our roundtable and shaped our submission. We will continue to monitor the progress of the Review in Northern Ireland and stand ready to support the Department in ensuring that the system serves and supports children and families as effectively as possible.

The backdrop to this consultation is the reality that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not functioning at present, which is adding ongoing delay to the progression and implementation of vital legislative and policy developments aimed at supporting and improving the lives of children and families across Northern Ireland. While we wait for the Assembly to function again, childhoods are continuing, and the system is held back from developing and innovating to meet the changing needs within it. We urge all political parties across Northern Ireland to work together to reestablish a functioning Assembly as soon as possible, so that children and families are not left behind.

Author:
Natalie Mills


Date published:
13th December 2023


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