Reimagining Children’s Social Care Services in Northern Ireland

Type Policy

Published on
9 November 2023

Transformational change of children’s social care services in Northern Ireland is urgently needed.

Barnardo’s has teamed up with the Reimagine Children’s Collective, a collective of major charities working with children, to jointly develop a paper to summarise our response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services.  

Now is the time to act. We need to reimagine how we restructure and reform our children’s social care services to ensure that all children, young people, and families have access to the right support. 

What are the key priorities?

Our key priorities which require urgent attention are: 

  1. Addressing poverty - Northern Ireland urgently needs an Anti-Poverty Strategy 

  2. Reduce waiting lists - The Department of Health should develop an Action Plan to reduce waiting lists for children’s social care services 

  3. Stabilising service provision - NI Executive Departments should seek to stabilise current service provision by temporarily suspending tendering/ commissioning processes related to established provision until an Executive can approve multi-year budgets and more collaborative forms of contract agreements can be developed 

  4. Tackling the workforce crisis - Action should be taken to address the children’s social care workforce crisis 

  5. Improving communication with children, young people and families - Better communication from statutory services is critical to improving the experiences of children, young people, parents and carers 

We are ambitious for our children.

The Reimagine Children’s Collective 

Recommendations for change

Listening to children, young people and families: 

A Family Charter is needed to establish a formal social contract between statutory organisations and children, young people and families.  

Access to information: Co-designed and age-appropriate content should be developed by the Department of Health to inform children and young people, including those with specific communication and language needs, about using children’s social care services. 

Advocacy services: Independent advocacy plays a vital role in facilitating meaningful representation and participation in decision making of children, young people and families and provides a way to hold services to account. Advocacy services are needed for specific groups like parents, young people with disabilities, children in care and those leaving care. 

Focusing on early intervention and prevention 

Local solutions: Greater access to practical help and early support on issues such as parenting, mental health and substance misuse is needed for families within their local community.  

Investment: There should be a renewed focus and commitment to invest in current family support services and to increase capacity on a cross-sectoral basis by allocating budgets for early intervention and prevention work.  

Expansion for Sure Start: A fully costed three-year expansion and workforce plan for the current 38 Sure Starts for the existing age group target (0-3s) should be developed using analysis of need information by each existing local project as part of Service Development planning.  

Supporting 4 – 10-year-olds: Further exploration of how the Sure Start model can be adapted to offer holistic support for children aged 4 – 10 years old on a regional basis is needed. 

Valuing the community and voluntary sector 

Partnership framework: The creation of a framework to formalise collaboration and support interdependence between the statutory, community and voluntary sectors is needed to foster a shared vision for children’s social care services, improve equity and provide a way for the Children’s Sector to influence policy and practice. This framework should outline minimum standards and expectations of all parties and provide mechanisms to effectively collaborate together.  

Representation: Increased inclusion of Children’s Sector representation on both the Children’s Social Care Strategic Reform programme and the Implementation Team and Board would provide expertise and insight and support fair and well-informed decision making. 

New funding model: A new funding model for the community and voluntary sector should include multi-year contracts, flexibility to address emerging challenges, investment in early intervention, fair scrutiny, and full cost recovery for sustainability. Funding should be specifically allocated to the Children’s Sector to support children, young people and families in local communities. 

No Privatisation of Children’s Social Care Services

We are opposed to the privatisation of children’s social care services in Northern Ireland. Evidence indicates that the use of commercial companies in children’s social care is both expensive and does not provide better outcomes for children or young people.

Increasing Accountability 

Checks and balances: Quality assurance processes, including independent assessments, are needed to improve transparency and accountability and permit effective monitoring and evaluation of children’s social care services.  

Effective use of data: A new region-wide data collection and monitoring system should be developed that could address both the lack of disaggregated data on children and young people, and system performance monitoring data around service provision.  

A minister for children and families: The appointment of a Minister for Children and Families would give political leadership and focus to the intentions of the Children’s Services Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 and act as children and families champion across government and alongside the Children’s Commissioner. 

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