November - December 2022 Newsletter

This edition of our newsletter provides an update on the progress of work on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services (the Review) for November and December 2022.  Over these two months Professor Ray Jones, Lead Reviewer, has continued to engage and have discussions with a range of stakeholders.

Meetings were held with The Right Honourable Sir John Gillen and Her Honour Judge Patricia Smyth, a member of the Review’s Advisory Panel, to discuss the Gillen Review of the Family Courts. Initial meetings took place with members of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate to hear about the Joint Inspection of Child Protection Arrangements Pilot. Other engagements included meeting with parents and carers at the National Autistic Society and with MACS Floating Support Team where Professor Jones heard from frontline staff who provide housing support to young people. There were also visits and meetings at Beechcroft Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit and the Iveagh Centre to meet with staff and young people to hear about their experiences of services.

Professor Jones meeting with parents at the National Autistic Society NI to hear about their experiences.

Professor Jones met with MACS NI to hear about their work providing supported housing for young people.

Professor Jones and Marie Roulston, Advisory Panel Member, met with Action for Children Little Steps Sure Start Centre and also had meetings at Thorndale Parenting Service, Parkhall Integrated College, and met with Education Welfare Officers.

Meetings have also taken place with the Invisible Trafficking Organisation to hear about their work on Ending Violence against Women and Girls, with the Commissioner for Victims of Crime, Geraldine Hanna, with Adoption NI, with the SSPG convened Disability Forum, and with the Inter-Agency Child Care and Legal Issues Group. There has also been a visit to St Mary’s Primary School in Belfast.

A follow up meeting was held with Keir Bloomer, Chair of the Independent Review of Education, and other members of the Education Review Panel.

Professor Jones continued to meet with senior Department of Health officials, Chief Social Worker, Aine Morrison, Deputy Secretary of the Social Services Policy Group, Peter Toogood, Chief Nursing Officer, Maria McIlgorm, and Nursing Leads, and with the Department of Health and Strategic Planning and Performance (SPPG) Group Leads.

Professor Jones recently met with Education Welfare Officers.

December was another busy month of engagements. Meetings took place with the chair and director of the Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland (SBNI), members of the Shadow Family Justice Board (SFJB), with Relate NI, and with Principal Officers and Chairs of the Domestic Violence Partnerships. Professor Jones continued to engage with RQIA Children’s Services Inspectors and with members of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate. He also met with senior officials within SPPG including Fostering Leads, Leaving Care and After Care Leads as well as Deputy Secretary, Sharon Gallagher, and with Brendon Whittle and Catherine Cassidy.

In the Antrim area, Professor Jones spent time at the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) where he met with the Family Services Intervention Team and Gateway Services frontline staff.

Meetings have also taken place with Health Visitors, and School Nurses and the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health. Professor Jones and Advisory Panel Member, Marie Roulston, also visited Monkstown Boxing Club to hear about the THRiVE Project’s work in the community.


THRiVE representatives met with Professor Ray Jones to talk about how children’s services co-operation can happen in practice through collaborative funding, local parent champions, community family support, and Gateway and CAHMS support for designated teachers.

Delighted to host Professor Jones & share the multidisciplinary services provided by the club & the THRiVE Project as Part of the Review.


The third workshop of the Review focused on Family Support Services. It was held in Dungannon on 15 November 2022. A wide range of organisations / sectors were represented with 75 participants / delegates in attendance including parents and carers, practitioners, service managers and policymakers. The workshop provided an opportunity for attendees across Northern Ireland to give their views on the issues facing family support services. Thought provoking discussions took place from both an individual and group perspective through round table discussions. More information on the workshop will be available on the website soon.

Professor Ray Jones, Lead Independent Reviewer, pictured with Co-Chairs Marie Roulston and Hasna Ramadan.

Sarah Lee McCloskey’s presentation was based on her experience as a parent.

Bronwyn Campbell, Regional Family Support Hubs Lead, outlined the key issues faced by Family Support Hubs.

Hayley Smith, Social Worker from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, presenting on the ‘Progression of a Family Support Case Using the Signs of Safety Approach’.

In addition to the above presentations, there was also two good practice presentations by frontline social work practitioners, Gemma Fay-Davies, South-Eastern Health and Social Care Trust on the The Role of a Family Support Team’ and Sharon Robb, Western Health and Social Care Trust on the ‘The Journey Home’.


The fourth workshop of the Review took place on 24 November 2022 at Oxford Island Nature Reserve, Craigavon. This workshop focused on the Children’s Social Care Workforce with 80 delegates in attendance. There was participation from a number of organisations / sectors including statutory and third sector representatives from human resources, finance, frontline practitioners, service managers and policymakers. This themed workshop provided an opportunity to identify the key workforce issues within children’s social care services.

There was a scene setting presentation by Michael Burns from the Department of Health and with concluding comments from Aine Morrison, the chief social worker.

Pictured below are keynote speakers who included Laura Crilly, SHSCT HR Assistant Director, Chantelle Hamill, NHSCT Senior Social Worker, Gerry Largey, NIPSA, and Noeleen Higgins, BASW, along with the Lead Reviewer, Professor Ray Jones, and Advisory Panel Members Professor Pat Dolan and Marie Roulston.

More information on the workshop will be available on the website in the new year.


The Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) has continued to support the work of the Experts by Experience Reference Group throughout the autumn.

In September the group came together in The Clayton Hotel, Belfast, working on key messages to inform the Review’s workshop at Hazelwood College. Some members of the group attended this workshop, with one delivering a presentation on the work of the group.

Two young people from the EBE Reference group met with the advisory panel on Friday 25 September to present their key messages.

On Saturday 19 November the reference group met in the CRUN, Coleraine, to begin exploring solutions to the issues identified previously. The key areas they want the Review to look at in relation to children’s services come under the headings:

  • Where I live;
  • Social work;
  • Participation of children and young people; and
  • Transitions.

VOYPIC Reference Group meeting in the CRUN, Coleraine

Young people did not feel comfortable to attend the Review’s workshop focused on Family Support on 15 November, therefore Professor Jones and Professor Pat Dolan met with the young people on Thursday 24 November to hear their experiences, views and opinions on services. This also gave the representatives from the group an opportunity to update the panel on the work of the EBE Reference Group and their discussions.

Professor Ray Jones and Professor Pat Dolan meeting with young people in VOYPIC premises in Lower Great Patrick St, Belfast.


During October and November, the team at Children in Northern Ireland moved to the second phase of their engagement with parents and carers.  While previously supporting groups of parents and carers to get together to speak about their experiences of social care CiNI have recently been facilitating direct engagement with Professor Jones.

CiNI have had five such meetings including parents and carers who have been involved in the justice system; those who have experienced violence at home; mothers who have had their children removed into care; a forum for parents and carers who work in partnership with Trust staff to help improve and develop services for families; and adoptive parents.

CiNI have continued to support parents and carers to attend and contribute to meetings of the Professor’s Advisory Panel.

CiNI have been particularly pleased to support parents to attend thematic workshop events, organised by the review secretariat.  Parents and carers greatly appreciated the opportunity to work alongside children and young people, frontline practitioners, managers, policy makers and academics.  The events proved to be lively, enjoyable and informative.  Parents and carers were particularly pleased to engage directly with Professor Jones and his team.  They had the opportunity to hear and respond to some of Professor Jones initial ideas for improving social care services for children here.


Over the last number of months, we have both been asked (separately) what is it like to be an advisory panel member working on the Children’s Social Care Services Review under the leadership of Professor Ray Jones?  Initially it probably took us a little time to get to know each other and to work through the terms of reference and to be clear about our roles as panel members, as basic as what we should/could do or not as the case may be.  Importantly for us all on the Review, establishing our role as useful advisors (hopefully), was central to us both from the outset.  As with any team you need different players with different skills, each of us were bringing slightly different experiences, skills and knowledge - and this helped. Bluntly, we had to work out how best to support Ray in his work.

This period of engagement as an ‘initiation’ for the Review has been good.  Not alone did it afford us the time to get to know each other, but also to get a much fuller understanding of the challenges of the system within Northern Ireland.  Over a number of months, we have had the privilege of accompanying Ray to many of his meetings across the province. We have met with young people through VOYPIC and also with parents supported by CiNI. Two young people and two parents attend our advisory board meetings, and we welcome their openness and honesty as they tell us how life is for them. We have also met with a range of key informants through a number of different workshops, children with disability, looked after children, family support and workforce representatives. So all in all we have had the privilege of listening and learning.

Marie has often chaired or co-chaired the workshops and Pat has worked with the team in distilling the core issues raised and then thinking through how these matters might be best addressed. Already, we can begin to see several themes taking shape as a result of the workshops, and we have been hugely impressed with the participation and the openness and honesty of everyone we have met with. There is an impressive willingness to share stories, good and bad, and a genuine commitment from all we have met to try and make things better for children and families in Northern Ireland.

While we are hearing from many that the “system” isn’t working, we have also had the opportunity of hearing and seeing examples of good practice, as well as solid suggestions on how to address problems.

More specifically we have learned how social workers are feeling the pressures of high vacancy rates, unallocated cases and not enough time to build relationships. Young people and parents are talking about their need for tangible support from professionals. They have reported frequent changes of social workers, complexity in systems, and a lack of partnership working. Community and voluntary groups are dealing with increased referrals because of increased deprivation and are concerned at the funding situation particularly with the absence of an executive just now.

We see ourselves as in the late stage of a “listening mode “and have welcomed getting out and about to meet schools, groups of young people, and staff teams. We are listening and gathering as much information as we can to help inform the Review findings and report.  In January 2023 we have our final (of four) workshops which have really helped us establish what we need to know. We have a few more engagement sessions, then Ray will then begin to draft his final report.  We will to be there to provide advice, guidance and support to enable Professor Jones to complete this independent Review.

So overall and so far, for both of us, it has been hugely enjoyable being part of a Review which could ultimately change things for the better and improve outcomes for children and families...our common goal!

Ever Onward.

Marie Roulston and Pat Dolan


If you wish to get in touch with the Review, you can contact the Review Secretariat team through the Review’s website, accessed here. The website provides information about the Review, details on 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.

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