Independent review of children’s social care services to be carried out in Northern Ireland
Health Minister Robin Swann has announced a review of children’s social care services in Northern Ireland will begin in February 2022.
It comes as the pandemic has exposed a “level of fragility” within child’s social care service in Northern Ireland for the most vulnerable children and young people.
The review will look at how current services are led and managed, and how they can be improved. It will also explore whether the current system is adequately supporting social care staff in the exercise of their caring duties, and if the system is capable of handling future pressures.
Professor Ray Jones will be the independent lead reviewer assisted by an advisory panel. Members of the Advisory Panel are Her Honour Judge Patricia Smyth, Professor Pat Dolan, and Marie Roulston, OBE (former Director of Children’s services), along with young people and parents/carers with personal experience of children’s social care services.
The young people, parents and carers are being independently recruited and supported by the Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) and Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI).
Explaining why the review is being undertaken, Robin said: “It has been more than a decade since there has been a fundamental examination of children’s social care services in Northern Ireland. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of such services and exposed a level of fragility within the system for the most vulnerable children and young people.”
The most recent children’s social care statistics for Northern Ireland, published in November 2021 for 2020/21, show that there are 23,095 children in need of social care.
At 31 March 2021, 3,530 children and young people were in care in Northern Ireland. This is the highest number of children in care since the introduction of the Children Order in 1995, and there has been a sharp increase since the start of the pandemic. The Children Order was designed to support and protect children to the highest extent possible.
The review will look at the support services for families, the care of children away from their families, and how the services are currently structured as well as looking at the support for staff.
Robin continued: “The review will look at how we support families to keep their children safe and well-cared for and enable them to stay together, and where this is not possible the provision of alternative care. It will also examine how the current services are structured, managed and led and assess if we can do more.
“In addition, we need to ensure the staff providing front-line services are sufficiently supported and developed to deliver the best possible outcomes for children, young people, families and parents who need their help and support.”
The review is expected to take 16 months to complete, starting in February 2022. It will engage throughout with parents; children and young people and with those working within and alongside children’s social care services.
The minister concluded: “This is a real opportunity for us to identify improvements which will benefit some of the most vulnerable children, young people and families as well as the staff who tirelessly serve them on a day-to-day basis.
“A thorough examination of services will be undertaken and critically, children and young people, parents and front-line practitioners will be directly engaged and central to the Review. I welcome the appointment of such an esteemed panel to carry out the review and wish them well in taking it forward.”