The major report on Northern Ireland’s children’s social care services is being launched today (Wednesday 21 June) at a conference due to be attended by approximately 400 people at the Stormont Hotel.
Professor Ray Jones was appointed by Robin Swann, when Minister of Health, to undertake a review of children’s social care services across Northern Ireland. The Review was prompted by concerns about longstanding issues within the services, including high levels of staff vacancies and many children and families not getting the help they needed.
Professor Jones has found that there are more than 4,000 children on the waiting lists for assessments and help from children’s social care services provided by the region’s five Health and Social Care Trusts, with many waiting for over a year and with the longest wait being over two years.
In his report he notes that Northern Ireland has a much higher rate of children being referred to children’s social care services compared with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, a higher proportion of its children are seen as ‘in need’ of help, a higher proportion with child protection plans, and a record number of children in care.
During the Review, which started in February 2022, Professor Jones has seen many impressive services delivered by skilled and committed workers, but he has also heard from children and their families that there is a high turnover of social workers, that children and families are concerned that they have not got the help they needed when they needed it, and that the help which is available is not consistent across all areas.
“What has been described to me, and what I have seen, are services provided by the Health and Social Care Trusts and by voluntary and community organisations under great pressure, and it is recognised that there are longstanding serious difficulties which span all of Northern Ireland.”
“This has had the consequences of help not being available to many families who are struggling and then with more children having child protection plans and with increasing numbers of children and young people being removed from their families and placed in care.”
“I am concerned that within the current arrangements, which were put in place fifty years ago, locating children’s social care services within very busy and pressurised health organisations, with big issues to tackle regarding, for example, hospitals, despite the best will in the world it is not possible to give the dedicated and concerted attention needed to tackle the difficulties within children’s social care services and to provide the help needed by children and families.”
“And it is getting worse. More families are struggling as poverty is increasing and deepening, and the absence of an Executive and Assembly means that urgent issues, such as the cost-of-living crisis, are not being tackled. Big cuts are now being made with services which have taken time to build, including by voluntary and community organisations, quickly being closed down and children and families left stranded.”
Professor Jones’ major recommendation is that a region-wide organisation should be created to deliver children’s social care services and to create the platform to address the significant issues which need to be tackled.
“It creates the opportunity to address long-standing difficulties which are worsening and to start to refocus on helping, when necessary, families to care for their children rather than continuing down the road of more and more children being removed from their families. And there is an urgency to move ahead at pace. Children only have one childhood and the clock is ticking”.