Our May newsletter provides an update on the progress of the work of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services (the Review) and a note from the Lead Reviewer, Professor Ray Jones, with his reflections on the progress of the Review to date and plans for the way ahead.
In the April newsletter, we updated readers on the ongoing programme of engagement events that Professor Jones continues to undertake for the Review.
During May, Professor Jones met with a range of stakeholders in children’s social care; HSC Trusts’ Directors of Children’s Social Care Services; Third Sector Organisations; staff and students from Queen’s University’s and the Ulster University’s respective Schools’ of Social Work; children, young people, carers and families who have experience of children’s social care services, Department of Health policy leads and professional officers; and visited care experienced pupils and teachers from a Belfast Integrated Secondary School. Professor Jones also conducted a two day programme of meetings and visits in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust meeting frontline social care practitioners, teams and managers.
A NOTE FROM PROFESSOR JONES
We are now three months into what is planned to be the 16 month Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services in Northern Ireland. I am the Independent Reviewer and very much appreciate the assistance I am getting from the Review’s Advisory Panel, the Review’s Secretariat and everyone who is contributing to the Review.
So three months in, what have we been doing?
In this first phase of the Review the focus has been on:
- setting up the structure for the Review;
- planning, preparing and commencing engagement with children and young people and parents / carers with the help of VOYPIC and CiNI;
- getting out and about visiting each of the five Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) and meeting with frontline practitioners, managers and corporate leaders; and
- meeting with the regional children’s social care infrastructure organisations and engaging with NIPSA, UNISON and BASW NI.
What this actually means is that in addition to other activities I have had two days in each of the HSCTs, have met with approximately 300-400 social workers and others who are working with children and families, have spent time with Trust chairs, chief executives and children’s service managers, and have also visited and met with young people and staff in each Trust and in at least one children’s home.
I am very grateful to everyone I have met for their time and for the wisdom, experiences and advice they have shared with me, and a special thank you to the young people in the children’s homes who have met with me and made me feel so welcome. I have also had some initial opportunities to meet with parents and young people and I have found their accounts of their involvement with children’s social care services insightful and powerful.
I have met separately with the Minister of Health, Robin Swann MLA, and the new Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health, Peter May.
As a result of emerging patterns and rather than waiting for 16 months to prepare a final Review report, there is an understanding that as issues are identified which need to be addressed, they will be highlighted and discussions commenced as to how they should start to be dealt with now.
One such issue is the high levels of vacancies in the children’s social care workforce and the consequent serious concern regarding unallocated work which may leave children and families without the help and protection that they need. Actions around recruitment, expanding the skills mix within teams, additional administrative assistance and looking to reduce the bureaucracy which takes time away from contact with children and families, should now be underway and progress is to be reviewed in September.
So what happens next?
Stage two of the Review includes getting out and about and meeting with children and young people, with parents and carers, and with those providing children’s social care services. It also includes seeing the services in action and spending time with those delivering services across Northern Ireland, which will include those working within children’s social care services and also those in other organisations and professions who also work with children and families.
In the autumn, the intention is to hold workshops which focus on key themes and issues which are being identified through the Review and which need action and to start to shape thinking and proposals through the workshops about how to tackle the issues.
The Review is now well underway, the contribution from all who are contributing to the Review is much appreciated, and I am personally very grateful for all the advice that I’m getting and all the experiences which are being shared with me. THANK YOU!
CHILDREN IN NORTHERN IRELAND (CiNI) ANIMATION
CiNI has produced an animation video which provides information about the Review and explains why it is necessary. The video is available on the Review’s website where it can be accessed here.
FUTURE ENGAGEMENT PLANS
It is planned over the coming months that a range of engagement events and workshops will be organised across the region, to provide support networks for parents and carers to participate in the Review. This will give the Review Team the chance to hear first-hand, both positive and negative experiences of children’s social care services and provide opportunities to identify solutions through parents and carers experiences, which will help shape and inform the recommendations from the Review.
CONTACTING THE REVIEW
If you wish to get in touch with the Review, you can contact the Review Secretariat team through the Review’s website and can be accessed here. The website provides information about the Review, how to contact us, key documents and latest news. The Review website will serve as a platform to connect with you and to seek your views.