February 2023 Newsletter

Welcome to our February 2023 newsletter, which provides an update on the progress of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services (the Review) over the past month.

February was another busy month for Professor Ray Jones, Lead Reviewer. His fieldwork has now ended and he is moving into the final stage of writing the Review report. Professor Jones attended forums with Trust Assistant Directors of Children’s Services in relation to CAMHS, Family Support and Safeguarding. Follow up meetings took place with Directors of Children’s Social Care Services to hear about the actions taken to address the current workforce issues. Engagements continue to take place with Peter May, Department of Health Permanent Secretary, and Departmental Policy Leads.

Meetings took place with the Invisible Traffick Organisation and representatives from Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAWG) as well as engagement with the Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse, Fiona Ryan.  In the North-West, Professor Jones and Marie Roulston, Advisory Panel Member, met with staff and students from the University of Ulster in the Magee Campus. They also visited the new Foyle Family Justice Centre to hear about their work and met with the managers of domestic abuse services. Meetings also took place with Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI), RQIA and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

Professor Ray Jones with social work staff and students at the University of Ulster from the Magee Campus.

Professor Ray Jones spent time with CiNi and key stakeholders within the Community and Voluntary Sector discussing key reflections on the Review.

Update Provided by Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI)

The engagement with parents and carers undertaken by Children in Northern Ireland has now been completed. From March to August 2022 engagements with 14 groups were facilitated. These included parents of children with disabilities, prisoners’ families, adoptive parents, mothers impacted by domestic abuse, refugee families and parents who had direct experience of Social Services.

CiNI provided participants with the opportunity to contribute their views and opinions to the work of the Review. These meetings also served to support some groups to clarify both their thinking and key messages in advance of direct meetings with Professor Ray Jones which, facilitated by CiNI, took place during September and October 2022.  Parents and carers were also supported to attend and contribute to meetings of the Review Advisory Panel and to four Thematic Workshops.  Also, a few one-to-one interviews were conducted for those who were unable to attend group meetings.

In all 178 parents and carers engaged through CiNI, and welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the Review, hopeful for improvements in service provision both for themselves and other families.  Overall, the views expressed were fair and measured and the groups understood the pressures on the system and social workers in particular. They raised several key issues such as the lack of family support and key services, high turnover of social work staff, problems with communication, the need for practical support, better training for social work staff in relation to autism and domestic abuse as well as the need for parents and carers to be genuine partners in the design, development, review and delivery of services.

CiNI would like to take this opportunity to thank all the parents and carers who contributed to this Review for their openness and honesty during the process.

Update Provided by Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC)

Professor Ray Jones, Professor Pat Dolan, and Marie Roulston met with members of the EBE Reference Group on Thursday 26 January, in VOYPIC’s new Belfast base, 100 Great Patrick Street. This provided a final check-in with the group in advance of drafting the final Report. 

At this meeting Professor Jones reviewed the engagement with the EBE Reference Group since its inception in April 2022, and engagements with various agencies and individuals throughout the Review process. 

The panel used this time to talk to the group about their involvement in this process and thanked them for the valuable contribution they have made.

Reviewing his notes, Professor Jones took the opportunity to ensure he had captured the main themes the group wanted to see as part of the Review, including the aspects of children's social care that are working well for young people, as well as those that are not and which they thought should be urgently addressed.

Members of the group were keen to know how the report would be progressed and sought assurances that its recommendations would be implemented.  The panel discussed their concerns with the group and highlighted the requirement for a functioning Executive and a Minister of Health to endorse any recommendations made.  Everyone agreed that this was a huge concern after all the work and effort put into this process by those involved and would be disappointed if it did not bring about positive change.

Members of the group thanked the panel for their time, patience, and consideration of their experiences in the Review and for ensuring that their voice is at the heart of the recommendations.

The group is looking ahead to the launch of the report and are planning to get together to mark and celebrate their contribution to the process.  The group also plans to develop its own response to the final report.

Final Stage of the Review

Since the Review was announced in February 2022, engagement has been extensive from the outset. Professor Jones has spent the last 13 months meeting with and listening to those involved with children’s social care across Northern Ireland.  Professor Jones now moves into the final stage of the Review in writing his report which is due to be published in June 2023. As a result, there will be no more engagement at this time. This will also be the final newsletter until the Review Launch Event in June. The Review team and Secretariat would like to take the opportunity to thank those who have engaged with the Review over the past year.

Review Launch Event

The Review Launch Event will take place on 21 June 2023 at Stormont Hotel, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast from 09:30 – 13:00. Save the Date flyers will be issued soon with invitations to attend the event sent out later in May.

Contacting the Review

The Review website provides information about the Review, key documents and latest news.

The Review has its own twitter account @cscsreviewni where you can follow us and view our twitter feed for more updates on the work of the Review. It can be accessed here.