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COMMITTEE FOR HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES
Inquiry into Residential and
Inquiry into Residential and
Volume 1 - Report and Proceedings of the Committee
The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Standing Order No. 45 of The Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has the power to:
The Committee has eleven members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five.
The membership of the Committee since its establishment on 29 November 1999 has been as follows:
Dr Joe Hendron (Chairman)
All correspondence should be addressed to The Clerk of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, Room 419, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, BT4 3XX. The telephone number for general enquiries is: 028 9052 1932.
The Clerk's E-mail address is: email@example.com
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VOLUME 1 - REPORT AND PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE
Executive Summary Recommendations
Introduction Background Resources
Minutes of Proceedings relating to the Report
1. The Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, which was established on 29 November 1999, initially identified children's services as a priority area for scrutiny. Serious shortcomings within the children's residential sector were highlighted by a number of oral evidence witnesses, including Putting Children First, which lead to the Committee agreeing to conduct an inquiry under the following terms of reference:
"To investigate the current position with regard to residential and secure accommodation for children in Northern Ireland, and to make recommendations for improvements."
2. The chronic problems in the provision of children's residential services have been well documented as far back as 1997 when the former Department of Health and Social Services itself undertook a review of this sector culminating in the report 'Children Matter'. This report mapped out a detailed action plan for an expanded model of specialised residential provision taking account of the wide range of children's differentiated needs. The fact that the Minister, Bairbre de Brún, has recently set up a Task Force to drive forward the model of provision envisaged in the report, while welcome in itself, is a sad reflection on the lack of progress against the report's recommendations since its publication over two years ago. (The number of residential places currently available, 338, falls some 30% short of the estimated 453 places needed.)
3. There are a number of origins for the present crisis in the children's residential services:
4. The severe shortage of places and suitable accommodation contributes to a multitude of problems within the residential sector and compounds the vulnerability of those children most disadvantaged in our society. Witness after witness outlined in graphic and depressing detail the damaging consequences for both children and staff arising from the shortfall in provision. Vulnerable children and young people of varying ages, and conflicting (psychiatric) needs, are being inappropriately placed together in general provision homes, thus compromising their care and safety and exacerbating their problems, as well as placing staff under intolerable pressures. The Committee heard from witnesses of shocking instances of violence in homes, absconding, drug abuse and inappropriate sexual behaviour, including prostitution.
5. There is an obvious lack of adequate provision for meeting the needs of children with mental health problems and of secure accommodation for children and young people who pose a risk to themselves and others. The current piecemeal respite provision for disabled children requires urgent expansion. Put simply, the basic safeguard for looked-after children of choice of placement to reflect their individual needs does not exist. Proper funding will be vital in transforming the current inadequate provision into the expanded residential sector, as envisaged in the report 'Children Matter'. A high quality public care service cannot be built and sustained on the cheap. Regrettably, several witnesses referred to children's residential care as a Cinderella Service, which is surely a damning indictment of a service that is meant to be providing the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in our society with a stable and secure environment.
6. There was unanimous agreement among the witnesses that sufficient ring-fenced funding should be made available for the necessary facilities and staffing for the additional children's homes needed, and that the usage of these resources should be closely monitored to ensure efficiency in meeting the desired outcomes. The practice by some Trusts of diverting moneys out of children's services in-year into other pressurised areas, as was cited by some witnesses, must cease immediately.
7. The value of investing properly in preventive measures cannot be overstated in terms of reducing the numbers of children having to enter the looked-after care system, and, therefore, the Executive's recently announced Children's Fund of some £27m over the next three years to support children in need and young people at risk, in addition to the extension of the Sure Start system, are most welcome measures. However, given the historical underfunding of personal social services, and the limited overall increase in the resources allocated to children's services since the introduction of the Children Order in 1995, there is clearly scope for additional support.
8. The Committee heard from voluntary sector representatives that unsatisfactory short-term contractual arrangements with the Trusts and Boards were major obstacles preventing that sector in committing significant capital to facilitate the building of new children's homes. Longer-term commitments would enable that sector to plan strategically and play a meaningful role in the future provision of children's residential care.
9. The recruitment, retention and training of staff are crucial to the success of an expanded specialist model of children's residential services. The Committee was therefore alarmed to learn from NIPSA representatives that it had lost some 15% of its residential social work members in the last year due to the serious pressures, including violent incidents, and long unsociable hours involved in operating general purpose homes where children of conflicting needs are frequently inappropriately placed. High absenteeism rates of up to 30% have lead to an over-reliance on casual staff, which adversely impacts on the quality of care in children's homes.
10. The Committee believes that radical steps are needed both to maintain the current social work staff within the residential sector and to entice the target number of 150 to 200 additional qualified social workers required for the expanded residential service. Such measures would include a body to establish the proper staffing complements for existing and proposed specialised units; a training and support facility for social workers specialising in children's residential care; and a review of the pay and conditions of service to reflect the specialist demands and stresses of the job.
11. The ongoing retraction of the residential sector has added further pressure on secure care provision for children and young people - there are only eight places for the whole of Northern Ireland. This has not only lead to the danger of inappropriate placements in the event of other placements not being available, but to young people "at risk" and desperately in need of a protective environment remaining in the community "queuing" for places. There can be as many as 15 young people waiting for a place at any one time. Consequently, the Committee accepts the arguments by witnesses that, while an expanded residential sector providing local intensive support units should ultimately reduce demand for secure places, in the interim, there is an urgent need for extra secure accommodation places, which should be regularly reviewed. The Committee envisages a complementary role for the voluntary sector in providing such a service, though this would require a change in subordinate legislation.
12. Since the publication of 'Children Matter', the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Children) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 has heaped further pressure on the children's residential sector by diverting into it young offenders who would otherwise have been maintained in a custodial setting. There was anecdotal evidence that these children present significant management difficulties and can upset the routine of other residents. The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) reports that, in the last year, almost one third of children admitted into custody came direct from a children's home. The Committee would therefore agree with the many witnesses who argued for a distinct specialised residential provision to meet the needs of this specific group of children.
13. Considerable concern was raised during the course of the inquiry about the acute lack of provision for children and young people with mental health problems, and the extensive delays - up to two years - that Trusts are experiencing in accessing psychological and psychiatric services for looked-after children. To set the problem in context, the Children's Law Centre referred to one study that found a staggering 67% of children in care in Northern Ireland to have psychiatric disorders. The current provision of six in-patient adolescent beds in the Young People's Centre falls far short of what is required, and therefore the long overdue provision of an additional eight-bed mental health unit as outlined in 'Implementing Children Matter' should be expedited.
14. The lack of proper specialist residential places for young people with disabilities was highlighted by a number of witnesses, who were in agreement for the need for a sub-regional respite provision for children with a disability. The Committee welcomes the recent announcement of a Carers and Disabled Children Bill and expects the matching funding for its full implementation. Given the current limited, piecemeal residential provision for disabled children, there is an urgent need for the Department to commission a study of their specific needs.
15. The very poor educational outcomes for children in residential care - some 50% of those leaving care in Northern Ireland have no qualifications - further disadvantages this most vulnerable group by leaving them with little prospect of securing reasonably paid quality employment and becoming economically independent. The Committee learned during its inquiry of the growing numbers of looked-after children suspended, excluded or experiencing school- related difficulties. The Department of Education (DE) highlighted in its submission the pressing need for improved communication between social services and education professionals about children in care. The Committee sees this need as being best met by the setting up of a joint working group involving the Department, the NIO, the Education and Library Boards, and the voluntary sector to formulate an agreed strategy regarding the education of children in care.
16. The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 provides for Independent Visitors to advise and befriend children in care, and it also imposes a duty on HSS Trusts to assist and support a child with a view to promoting his welfare when he ceases to be looked after. Research shows that these provisions are viewed as highly valuable by young people, who have commented on their positive impact. These support measures are of crucial importance to young people in care, who are significantly disadvantaged in relation to others, for example, in terms of mental health problems, low self-esteem, poor educational achievement and sense of isolation. It is therefore a matter of deep concern that only a minority of children in care have been able to avail of the Independent Visitors scheme due to the way in which the legislation is narrowly drafted. The Committee firmly believes that all children in care should be provided with an Independent Visitor by the relevant authority.
17. The Committee noted with grave concern reference in the Children Order Report 1999 to the fact that nearly half of the HSS Trusts did not have a framework for developing their leaving and aftercare programmes. It fully endorses the recommendations from the authors of the 'Northern Ireland Leaving Care Research Project' that all young people in care should be involved in developing their own individual "through-care plans" to address their preparation and after-care needs and enhance practical living skills. The Northern Ireland Leaving Care Bill, due to be introduced next year, is a most welcome safeguard and should help produce better outcomes for young people, in terms of education, employment and housing. As a complementary aid to the Trusts in carrying out their statutory responsibilities in this regard, the Committee advocates the establishment of an Aftercare Team and more resettlement skills programmes.
18. A key theme of the Children Order is prevention, as this was seen as better for children and families than protection. Many of the submissions received warned that failure to invest properly in family support services and other support measures is a false economy and only stores up future problems in terms of much more costly intervention in both human and financial terms. The Committee therefore welcomes the Executive's Public Expenditure Plans for 2001/02 for an expansion of Sure Start coverage for disadvantaged families by almost 50% as a positive step. This commitment must be built on over a long-term basis to facilitate the proper planning of family services.
19. The foster care service is directly linked to residential care, as children require different services to meet their assessed needs. Failure to find suitable foster placements can lead to children having to go into residential care, and it is therefore vital to ensure that the recruitment of foster parents keeps pace with the demand for places. Unfortunately, the dearth of residential places has placed ever greater demands on foster carers, who have to care for children with more complex and challenging needs than before, and therefore need more support. It is therefore a matter of considerable concern that the most recent Social Services Inspectorate's inspection of foster care in Northern Ireland in 1998 found that 40% of children had experienced more than three placements. It also found that almost 70% of foster carers were aged between 40 and 60, and that in the previous year insufficient foster carers were recruited to compensate for the numbers who had ceased fostering. The Committee fully accepts the arguments of witnesses for the urgent need for a regional strategy to address the support needs and training needs of foster carers, as well as reviewing the boarding-out rates to fully reflect the skills of the job. To this end, it welcomes the Minister's commitment when giving evidence to the inquiry to provide greater support to foster carers.
20. As opposed to fostering, adoption can provide children with the lifelong security of a stable family environment. The Committee was therefore concerned to learn that the rates of adoption from the looked-after population here are very low (2.7% in the year 1999) in comparison with parts of England, where the rates can rise to 30%. It is therefore encouraging to note that work is ongoing in this area, and the Committee looks forward to innovative recommendations from the Department on how to promote adoption services within the context of children's services.
21. The Committee fully agrees that the specialised, significantly expanded model of residential care provision as envisaged in 'Children Matter' will properly serve the differentiated and often conflicting needs of children and young people in residential care within the appropriate care settings, and that it should be expedited. Basically, this is a pyramid- based system with a range of general, locally-based children's homes at the bottom, a middle tier of more intensive support units for those with more complex needs, and at the top a small number of secure care places for children who pose a risk to themselves or to others. Equally, however, there is no doubt about the commensurate resource implications that will inevitably flow from such provisions. 'Implementing Children Matter' estimated the capital costs of the additional provision at £26m, with associated revenue costs of £11m for the necessary expansion of provision.
22. The unanimous view of the Committee is that - five years after the introduction of the Children Order, which imposed statutory obligations on the Department in relation to the whole gamut of children's services - the necessary dedicated funds to implement the expanded range of services must be made available. This would help to provide these most vulnerable children with the decent, stable home environment (with appropriate specialist support) that the vast majority of the population takes for granted in a developed society. The practice in the past of moneys intended for children's services being re-directed to what were perceived as more needy priorities, as was cited by some witnesses, is completely unacceptable, and at least partially explains the current crisis within the residential sector.
23. Crucial to the successful implementation of an expanded, differentiated children's residential care service will be an overarching strategy - involving clear policy objectives and outcomes - that encompasses the statutory, voluntary and private sectors working jointly in close collaboration. Several witnesses found the present commissioning arrangements confusing, and were unclear as to where responsibilities lay between the Department, the HSS Boards and Trusts. The Committee was therefore encouraged by the Minister's commitment to ensuring that the regional plan for children's services will fully involve the statutory, voluntary and private sectors, and build on work ongoing at present.
24. Given such a commitment, though, the Committee was deeply concerned at the omission of the voluntary sector from the Children Matter Task Force. This matter should be rectified immediately. The newly constituted, fully inclusive, Task Force should be afforded complete authority and dedicated resources to implement the strategic plan within a specified timescale, reporting directly and regularly to the Minister. The Committee also views it as important for the Task Force to consult with young people who have had experience of residential care about the future provision of services.
25. As well as unacceptable delays in economic appraisals, planning issues have become a major stumbling block to the provision of new children's homes in recent times due to the weight of opposition from local communities. The Committee fully agrees with the Minister when she emphasised the importance of public representatives working with local communities to heighten awareness and understanding of the special needs of children in residential care.
26. Many of the witnesses to the inquiry argued passionately for the appointment of a Commissioner for Children. The Committee accepts this argument in view of the serious concerns in relation to the level of funding for children's services, the increasing number of children affected by mental health problems, and their rights and safeguards under the Children Order. Such a Commissioner would serve to heighten the profile of children's issues, assist in the development of services for children, and act as an independent watchdog for their overall welfare in Northern Ireland.
i. Sufficient funding should be made available for the provision of the necessary facilities and staffing for the additional minimum of 115 children's residential care places required.
ii. The ring-fencing of resources allocated to children's funds is essential. This should include specific audit trails linked to measurable outcomes.
iii. Trusts should not place children in homes that are already operating at full capacity, unless with the approval of the Registration and Inspection Unit under extreme circumstances, and only then for a limited period and with a plan for additional staffing arrangements.
iv. A placement risk analysis should be completed by the relevant agency for each child prior to planned admission, or as soon as possible following an emergency admission. The care plan for each child should include a "protection strategy", approved by the Registration and Inspection Unit, setting out specific action to reduce risk, taking account of the individual needs of the child.
v. A regional group should be established charged with producing precise staffing requirements for the existing homes and more specialised provision as the service develops.
vi A training and support facility for children's residential care should be established within the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, which would cover the key areas of child protection and development of related policies. These would include: managing difficult behaviours; health promotion; education; preparation for leaving care, training for non-qualified staff leading to access to a professional qualifications; communication with children skills; and stress management/counselling services.
vii. A modernisation of the pay and conditions of service is imperative for children's residential care social workers, including career structures, to take account of the specialist demands of the job, the high levels of stress and the unsociable hours involved.
viii. The post of Deputy Team Leader should be reinstated where warranted by the number of children in a home.
ix. To help alleviate the current crisis in provision by the statutory sector, the Department should introduce subordinate legislation to lift the current restriction on the voluntary sector from providing secure care accommodation.
x. The need for secure places should be regularly reviewed, especially as the range of residential provision is extended.
xi. The Department should provide resources to establish a number of small pilots to test the effectiveness of possible alternatives to secure care accommodation.
xii. The Department should carry out a specific evaluation of the Human Rights implications of the use of secure accommodation for children and young people in the care context.
xiii. A forum should be established to enable the Court Service and the providers of children's residential care to liaise on issues in relation to secure accommodation.
xiv. The provision of an additional eight-bed mental health unit, as outlined in 'Implementing Children Matter', should be expedited.
xv. The treatment of children and young people within adult psychiatric wards should cease.
xvi. The forthcoming Departmental report mapping out future provision of adolescent psychiatric support should focus on preventive measures. It should also clearly indicate what mental health services are to be developed for 16- to 18-year-olds.
xvii. The Department's plans for the development of mental health support services should include joint training across professions for therapeutic intervention with children, and also include an input from the Adolescent Psychiatry Service.
xviii. The Department should urgently commission a study of the residential needs of disabled children.
xix. The residential care provision for disabled children as outlined in 'Implementing Children Matter' should be expedited.
xx. A joint working group should be established representing the Department, the NIO, the HSS Trusts, the Education and Library Boards, and the voluntary sector in order to formulate an agreed protocol regarding the education of young people in care, including those within the juvenile justice system. It should also develop strategies for keeping them within the school structure. Particular attention should be given to those young people who are disruptive in school, or who are excluded from school.
xxi. The Department and the NIO need to clarify the interaction between the duties to children in need under the Children Order, which includes a specific duty on social services to children who are offenders, and the obligations in relation to the Criminal Justice (Children) Order.
xxii. The Department's strategic regional plan for children's residential care services must factor in specific facilities suitable for looking after offenders. The potential for the voluntary sector to provide such care-based facilities and to trial alternatives must be fully explored.
xxiii. When an authority is looking after any child, where not placed with his/her parents, that authority should, as matter of course, in conjunction with the child or young person, appoint an Independent Visitor.
xxiv. All young people in care must have a "through-care plan" to address fully their preparation and aftercare needs. In addition to developing their Leaving and Aftercare programmes, Trusts should publish information about the services that they, and other agencies, provide to young people leaving care.
xxv. An Aftercare Team should be established as an aid to the Trusts in delivering their statutory responsibilities to help young people meet the challenges of living independently.
xxvi. The Department should introduce a Quality Protects initiative within the next twelve months, with a target of attainment for care leavers and the necessary funding and resources to secure better outcomes for children leaving care.
xxvii. In recognition of the vital preventive role played by family support services, and in accordance with Article 18 of the Children Order, sufficient resources must be made available to such services, on a long-term basis, to facilitate their proper planning.
xxviii. The Department should implement urgently a regional strategy to address the support needs (including an out-of-hours service), respite provision, and training requirements of foster carers.
xxix. The current boarding-out rates for fostering in Northern Ireland should be reviewed and uprated to reflect and fully recognise the skills and demands of foster caring. Particular recognition should be given to those who require specialist skills in caring for children with more challenging behaviours.
xxx. The outcome of the review of adoption services should be issued for wide consultation.
xxxi. The model of residential care provision as outlined in 'Children Matter' should be urgently implemented in order to provide the additional minimum of 115 places required.
xxxii. The Department should provide the voluntary sector with minimum five-year rolling contracts in order to facilitate better planning within that sector.
xxxiii. There should be a transparent, co-ordinated regional strategic plan for looked-after children's services in Northern Ireland, with joint commissioning and work partnerships between the statutory, voluntary, and private sectors involving clear policy objectives and outcomes. The strategy should draw upon new initiatives within the residential child care sector both in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and further afield.
xxxiv. A Task Force, including the voluntary sector, should be given full authority and dedicated resources, as the body corporate, to carry through the strategic plan within a set timeframe, from planning through to implementation, reporting directly and regularly to the Minister. The Task Force should consult with children and young people who have experience of residential care about the future provision of services.
xxxv. Public representatives should work constructively with local communities to heighten public awareness and understanding of the vulnerability of children in residential care and their special needs.
xxxvi. A Commissioner for Children should be appointed to act as a watchdog in promoting and protecting the interests of children in Northern Ireland.
27. The Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee was established on 29 November 1999. It initially spent some time in identifying and short-listing priority areas for scrutiny. Included in the priority list was the area of children's services, and the problems relating to residential accommodation for children were recognised as giving particular cause for concern. There were reports of overcrowding, inappropriate placements, and of children absconding and being involved in prostitution and drug abuse.
28. There has been mounting concern in recent years about the quality of provision of children's residential services in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the former Department of Health and Social Services itself formally recognised the problem in 1997 when it commissioned a review of residential child care, resulting in the report 'Children Matter', which was published in 1998.
29. Consequently, the Committee, in fulfilling its scrutiny role with respect to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, decided to conduct an inquiry under the following terms of reference:-
"To investigate the current position with regard to residential and secure accommodation for children in Northern Ireland, and to make recommendations for improvements."
30. It should be stated from the outset that the Committee acknowledges that the provision of residential and secure accommodation for children forms only part of a continuum of services to families and children, and there are several other aspects of the services, including fostering, adoption, aftercare services, and family support services, that may form the basis of future inquiries themselves. Therefore, while the report will focus in on the current situation in relation to children's residential care homes and secure accommodation, and the proposals for the way forward, in order to provide a fuller picture, it has also been necessary to comment on the above-mentioned related aspects of children's services. Areas that will be examined include resources, specialisation and differentiation within children's homes, staffing, children's specialist needs, education, aftercare services, the effect of legislative changes on the service, and preventive measures.
31. The Committee held five oral evidence sessions in September and October 2000, taking evidence from the following witnesses: Dr Ewan McEwan of the Young People's Centre; the Northern Ireland Branch of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW (NI)); Child Care Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA); and the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Ms Bairbre de Brún.
32. The Committee also wrote to over 100 organisations, including the HSS Boards and Trusts, children's welfare bodies, voluntary groups, and the local councils to request written submissions. An advertisement was also placed in the three main local daily newspapers. The Committee was pleased to receive a considerable volume of written evidence from 61 organisations and individuals. While the written submissions from those witnesses who gave oral evidence are published in the report, because of the volume, the remainder of the submissions has not been printed. Copies of all the written evidence are available to the public for inspection through the Committee Clerk. The Committee wishes to place on record its gratitude to all of the witnesses for the excellent submissions received.
33. The last fifteen years have seen a marked decline in the overall level of provision of residential accommodation for children in Northern Ireland. In 1986, the number of places (excluding those for disabled children) in statutory and voluntary children's homes stood at 480 and 208 respectively, a total of 688 places. However, as of 1 August 2000 the total number of places (including those for disabled children) stood at 338, with 256 in the statutory sector and 74 in the voluntary sector. There are also eight places in a private home run by Care (Northern Ireland) Ltd in County Fermanagh. This constitutes a reduction of some 50% of total available places since 1986.
34. The current total breaks down into statutory, voluntary and private places respectively within the four Board areas as shown in the following table:
35. Apart from the change in number of places available, it is clear that the pattern of provision has altered dramatically, with a rapid decrease in the number of those provided by the voluntary sector. This year saw the closure of St Joseph's in Middletown, which had provided 24 places within the voluntary sector. The number of places available within the two remaining Regional Centres, Glenmona (a voluntary children's home) and Lakewood (managed by Ulster Community & Hospitals Trust), has also decreased from 135 in November 1993 to the present figure of 76. This includes eight places in secure care accommodation, for which there is, on average, a waiting list of 15. Over a four-year period, therefore, there has been a reduction in regional places of over 55%.
36. The report 'Implementing Children Matter', in which the four HSS Boards outlined their joint plan mapping out the necessary configuration and overall numbers to meet fully the needs of the children's residential sector over a five-year period until 2004/05, estimated the required number of places to be 453. This shows a massive shortfall in provision - over 30% - in the number of places currently available.
37. Unsurprisingly, the lack of available spaces continues to present the same problems within the residential sector that the 'Children Matter' report highlighted in 1998. These include:
38. As the number of places has diminished, so the facility to spread problems, created by severely disturbed young people, by placing them over a number of placements has reduced. This has lead to excessive numbers of children with very challenging behaviour being clustered in fewer units.
39. To compound the problems that were identified by 'Children Matter', legislative changes have added to the pressures on the sector. The Criminal Justice (Children) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (the Criminal Justice (Children) Order), which deals with reserved matters, introduced for juveniles the presumption of bail and replaced indeterminate sentences with much shorter three-month ones. These developments have meant that HSS Trusts must now give consideration to the residential needs of children not previously in the looked-after care system. Apart from the financial considerations - and Trusts have not yet secured the extra resources to meet these demands - this can lead to problems when the young offenders are placed in non-specialised homes.
40. As a response to the crisis within the children's residential sector, the then Minister, Mr John McFall, targeted an additional £7·5m Children Order moneys towards making improvements in the provision of children's homes. However, the Committee was unclear as to how the money was specifically spent. It was concerned to hear from witnesses that substantial sums had been used to clear Trusts' outstanding debts.
41. In late 1999, the Department established a Project Team to set targets and timescales for the expansion of the residential care sector. As of 12 May 2000, there were 77 children awaiting placement in residential care homes across the four Board areas. The Minister, Ms Bairbre de Brún, has recently announced the establishment of a Children Matter Task Force to drive forward the development of children's services, which was due to report to the Minister in November 2000.
42. An important context for the current crisis in residential accommodation for children is the resource allocation for Family and Child Care Services in Northern Ireland.
43. Children in Northern Ireland experience a wide range of social and economic disadvantage, as the table below for the year 1998/99 evidences:
EXPENDITURE ON FAMILY AND CHILD CARE SERVICES
44. In spite of Northern Ireland's featuring consistently at the upper end of socio-economic deprivation indices in comparison with GB, it is well established that personal social services here have been historically underfunded.
45. That additional resources have been provided to the HSS Boards and Trusts under the Children Order is not in dispute. The Minister has previously stated that some £15m has been made available to the four HSS Boards to implement the Children Order since its inception in 1995. However, it is equally accepted that the limited overall increase in the amount available for children's services has been far from adequate, given the far-reaching nature of the legislation and the raft of new statutory responsibilities that were placed upon HSS Trusts.
46. In 2000/01, a total of £8·5m is being made available to the HSS Boards for children's services, including the implementation of the recommendations flowing from 'Children Matter'. However, the Minister acknowledged in August 2000 that, depending on how the children's services programme develops, it would take an estimated £20m in capital costs, together with ongoing revenue costs of £9m, to implement fully 'Children Matter'. Indeed, figures from 'Implementing Children Matter', which is a composite assessment by the four Boards of the capital and revenue costs associated with implementing 'Children Matter' over a five-year period, are somewhat higher, with capital and revenue costs estimated at some £26m and £11m respectively.
47. Given that the annual Family and Child Care budget in Northern Ireland is around £60m, it is evident that additional funding must be secured to implement the Children Matter strategy.
48. Although per capita expenditure on family and child care services has increased by 16·6% from 1995/96 to 1998/99, this falls far short of the English rate of 19·4%. Moreover, the differential in per capita expenditure with England has increased from £60·3 in 1995/96 to £75·4 in 1998/99. As a result of the method of Block-funding in Northern Ireland, resources designated for children's services have not always been used for such purposes here. Initiatives and finance designed to improve preventative services, quality, standards and outcomes for children and families have not always materialised. For example, we have been slow to benefit from the implementation of the Sure Start programme, although the initial investment of £2m this year in the programme, which is designed to help families with children in disadvantaged areas, is to be welcomed as a start.
49. The lack of adequate resources for children's services has recently led to a number of industrial disputes. These were not concerned with pay but rather centred on staff's inability to deliver proper services on the ground. The following selection of quotes from witnesses highlights the serious concerns and frustrations of those trying to provide a service:
". the backcloth entailed a growing level of frustration and concern among professional social workers that services for vulnerable children were being badly neglected due to the lack of adequate financial and staff investment . Like it or not, the reality is that residential care is a Cinderella service starved of adequate funding."
"Funding earmarked for Children's Services has been leached away on more than one occasion. Because of chronic under-provision, future funds should be protected against alternative use."
". evidence would suggest that significant amount of monies have been re-directed by the Boards and Trusts to other acute services to the detriment of Residential Child Care. We would be of the opinion that monies provided by the Department should be 'ring-fenced' to ensure that it fulfils the purpose for which it was intended."
"If we were assured that the money allocated to children's services was spent on such, that could go quite some way towards making a difference. It has been our experience that money allocated to children is raided and used on other services."
50. In a written response to the Committee, dated 31 July 2000, the Minister was unable to give assurances on the future ring-fencing of resources for children's services. She stated
"While I appreciate your concern to ensure that children's services are appropriately resourced, there are no plans at present to ring-fence these allocations in the future. Although the Department earmarks specific amounts for children's services each year, it is a matter for Boards, in discussion with HSS Trusts, to decide what services will be provided out of their overall allocations, taking into account local needs and priorities."
51. The Committee believes that the ring-fencing of funds allocated to children's services is essential, together with specific audit trails linked to measurable outcomes, if the problems within residential provision are to be properly addressed. It is totally unacceptable for funds to be diverted in-year, as this leads inevitably to uncertainty and plays havoc with planning.
52. Frank McKeating of Glenmona Resource Centre made the point that adequate resources will only make a difference if coupled with an inclusive strategic plan and a body with the authority and resources to drive the strategy forward from the planning stage to the implementation stage. "A body that could say where the facilities will go and how they will be utilised."
53. Child Care Northern Ireland emphasised that the voluntary sector was ready and willing to provide quality services but that it urgently needs to have proper contractual and funding arrangements with the HSS Trusts and Boards. For example, Glenmona has a contract until 2002 but is uncertain about the future beyond that. Glenmona's board of management is prepared to consider raising capital to facilitate the building of new children's homes but, from a business point of view, cannot do so under a two-year contract. It firmly believes that if the Department were able to provide longer-term, 10- or 15-year contracts, that would enable the voluntary sector to take some risks.
54. As with the ring-fencing of funds, the Committee believes that adequate rolling contracts with the voluntary sector of at least five years are essential to enable that sector to plan for and play its full part in the future provision of services.
55. As much as £370m has been allocated to the Quality Protects Initiative in England, which is currently driving forward the provision of child care. The Committee was encouraged to note the Executive's commitment in the Draft Programme for Government to increase coverage of the Sure Start programme, targeted at children under four in areas of social disadvantage, from 11,000 to 16,000 children. However, there is clearly scope for much more widespread and effective deployment of family and children's support measures. The Committee therefore welcomes the Northern Ireland Executive's Children's Fund proposals to allocate £27m over the next three years to children in need and youth at risk. The value of investing properly in preventive provisions cannot be over-estimated, given the enormous costs, particularly in terms of residential care, of picking up the pieces when prevention has failed.
Sufficient funding should be made available for the provision of the necessary facilities and staffing for the additional minimum of 115 children's residential places required.
The ring-fencing of resources allocated to children's services is essential. This should include specific audit trails linked to measurable outcomes.
56. Article 72 of the Children Order makes provision for children's homes with different remits. Within the looked-after children system in Northern Ireland residential care plays an integral role in the continuum of services. It provides accommodation for about 12% of looked-after children (approximately 320 out of a total of 2414 as at 31 March 2000), who are among society's most vulnerable, with a range of health, social, educational and emotional difficulties. A properly structured residential care system can contribute to positive outcomes for these children by helping them to prepare for foster care or independent living, provide them with a supportive environment to help their special care needs, or support their placements at home or with carers.
57. However, the pattern of children's residential care has altered dramatically in the last decade, with a rapid decline in the voluntary homes sector - upon which historically there had been an over-reliance - leaving the statutory sector as the main provider of a greatly reduced number of care places. Quite simply, this has created the pressures that have lead to the current crisis in the residential sector, since the statutory sector does not have the capacity to provide sufficient residential places. Historical gross underfunding of this sector has contributed greatly to its Cinderella status, though this is now beginning to be addressed. Worse still, there is evidence that moneys which had been earmarked for children's services in the past were frequently leached away for "priority" commitments, leaving the sector in an ever-spiralling descent into chaos and neglect.
58. The 'Children Matter' report of 1998 is a testament to the failings of the current system. Recognising the dearth of residential accommodation, it made a number of recommendations for a new model of provision, many of which have yet to be carried out because of a lack of funding. The stark reality is that the very system whose raison d'être is to protect the most vulnerable children in our society is, in fact, exposing them to further risk through inappropriate placements. The report made clear the pressing need for the purchase of specialist provision in terms of secure accommodation, facilities for children with psychiatric needs, services for children who pose a risk to others, and services for the respite and longer-term needs of children with a disability. Judging from evidence given to the Committee from a wide variety of sources, not only do the problems identified in 'Children Matter' remain, but they have been exacerbated by, for example, criminal justice legislation, which has further burdened the residential sector by diverting more troubled children into it.
59. The latest position is that there are 338 children's residential places (including secure accommodation) available in Northern Ireland. This figure also includes places for disabled children. As at 31 March 2000, there were 285 children in residential care (excluding children with a disability). As at 12 May 2000, a total of 77 children were awaiting placement in residential care. There are approximately 35 to 40 places for children with a disability. Therefore, not only is the sector operating at practically full capacity - in spite of the recommendation that the system should operate at a maximum of 80% occupancy in order to facilitate proper choice of placement - but there is a substantial unmet demand that has the effect of exposing vulnerable children to further risks, including drugs, alcohol and prostitution.
60. A fundamental safeguard and human right for looked-after children is choice of placement. Provision of a secure, stable placement is imperative. This necessitates, therefore, spare capacity within the system to ensure that there is a real choice of placements that reflects the children's diversity of needs. Regrettably, the retraction of places for a number of reasons, not least insufficient funding, has lead to many children either not being admitted at all, or being placed inappropriately in an ever-reducing number of outdated homes when there is often no available choice of accommodation. Barnardo's cited the cases of a four-year-old boy who had had 45 separate care moves, and a nine-year-old who had 10 moves. In giving evidence to the Committee in June 2000, Margaret Kelly of Putting Children First cited a case where three children in a family were found to be at very high risk in October 1999 but were still at home because no care placement could be found for them. Reference was also made by Putting Children First to instances of children who had been sexually assaulted being kept in the same setting as the perpetrator of the abuse.
61. This statement from the Registration and Inspection Report of the NHSSB 1999/2000 confirms the consequential pressures:
"The lack of placement options continues to be the most pressing concern arising from inspections . Many of the problems and stresses for children and for staff arise from the inappropriate mix of residents in four of the general purpose homes."
62. The lack of differentiation leads to younger children mixing with those who need to be in secure accommodation or specialist units. The Committee heard compelling evidence from NIPSA social workers of the exceptional vulnerability of young people within homes because of the disruptive influences brought about by inappropriate placements. Witnesses spoke of a drug culture in homes, with inappropriate sexual behaviour, including prostitution, also a problem. This points up the need for consideration, where appropriate, for same-sex facilities.
63. The 27-bedded unit of Harberton House within the Foyle Trust area is the largest single unit on one site in Northern Ireland. Although it is only funded for 20 beds, NIPSA have advised that this unit has, on occasions, accommodated up to 33 children. Voluntary homes would be in breach of their registration conditions if they went above their maximum registered number, which begs the question why the same strict conditions should not equally apply to the statutory sector? John Gillespie of NIPSA advised that, such was the extent of the shortfall in provision, in emergency situations, young people were being placed in residential care "irrespective of whether or not a bed is available. Consequently . when no bed is available . some units may [use] camp beds . some may use mattresses". Dr Ewan McEwan of the Young People's Centre concludes "There has been no choice but to concentrate excessive numbers of very disturbed young people in fewer centres, resulting in the balance between containment and constructive intervention tilting in favour of the former."
64. The sheer lack of places in children's residential care has created a knock-on effect by ensuring ever-increasing thresholds for children entering care. This means that some vulnerable children may be being exposed to inappropriate behaviours that could exacerbate their own problems. A culture of "get them in anywhere you can" has developed, which has lead to children with conflicting needs being accommodated within the same home, leading to unsatisfactory living conditions and, most alarmingly, jeopardising their safety and well-being. In 1998/99 in the Foyle Trust area alone, there were 52 instances of young people absconding for less than 24 hours, and 18 for more than 24 hours. There was one case where a young person was missing for 69 days. It is clear that there must be spare capacity so that children's needs are met, not just a "make do" response.
65. Barnardo's cited their experience of children actually being returned to the residential setting where they had been abused because no other places were available. And, of course, delayed admissions result in children living at risk within the community. Liz Millen of BASW (NI) stated
"There are . situations where secure accommodation criteria would probably be met, but where children are being left in the community, and the Trusts are not even proceeding to court, knowing that there are, say, 15 children on the waiting list. Leaving such children in the community is running a very high risk of dangerous behaviour".
66. This scenario flies completely in the face of paragraphs 1.1 and 1.5 of the Children Order Guidance, which state respectively that "homes should treat each child as individual and promote and safeguard his welfare", and that "the institutional needs of the home should never be allowed to dominate the lives of children and staff. Safeguarding the child's personal possessions and encouraging the child to develop ownership of their surroundings is extremely important."
67. The Registration and Inspection Unit of the EHSSB highlights child protection as a key issue given the lack of a differentiated range of services, and proposes that a placement risk analysis be completed for every child prior to admission, or as soon as possible after an emergency admission. It also advocates that the care plan for each child should include a "protection strategy" setting out specific action to reduce risk, taking into account the individual needs of the child.
68. The point was made frequently by witnesses that the general range of purpose-built homes is institutional in size, and that the units need to be reduced to take account of the complexity of the problems. Many of the old buildings would not meet current registration and inspection standards for children's homes but are used due to lack of suitable alternatives.
Trusts should not place children in homes that are already operating at full capacity, unless, under extreme circumstances, with the approval of the Registration and Inspection Unit, and only then for a limited period and with a plan for additional staffing arrangements.
A placement risk analysis should be completed by the relevant agency for each child prior to planned admission, or as soon as possible following an emergency admission. The care plan for each child should include a "protection strategy" approved by the Registration and Inspection Unit, setting out specific action to reduce risk, taking account of the individual needs of the child.
69. Crucial to the success of any plan to provide the number of additional units required to meet the needs of the residential sector will be the Department's ability to recruit and train the extra staff required to run the homes. The current lack of staff must not be allowed ultimately to frustrate plans to increases the number of homes. Numerous submissions referred to the current difficulties in maintaining sufficient numbers of suitably trained staff in children's homes. In fact, some witnesses considered staffing to be under crisis, with morale at a very low ebb. The huge reduction in the number of residential places in recent years has increased pressure on staff, who are already trying to deal with an almost impossible situation. Although Northern Ireland has comparatively high numbers of qualified staff in relation to other countries, there is a general sense among staff of being over-loaded and under-recognised.
70. The difficulty lies as much with retention of staff as with recruitment. The recent closure of St Joseph's, Middletown resulted in the crucial loss to the sector of highly-qualified residential social work staff - of the 30 staff employed, only four remained in the children's residential care sector. Margaret Kelly of Putting Children First explained that multiple problems within the residential sector mean that the staff "are locked into a system in which they are unable to meet the basic commitments of their jobs." The growing level of frustration and concern among social workers that children's services are being neglected in terms of staff investment has lead to several industrial disputes recently. There is a pressing need to establish agreed staffing levels that reflect the complexities of the work and which will facilitate staff recruitment and retention.
71. The difficulties in recruitment and retention of staff have prevented any expansion in the number of secure care accommodation places. There is a steady flow of staff leaving this specialist sector due to the amount of stress and disruption they have to cope with. Eileen Webster of NIPSA commented that
"the good, experienced childcare social workers are getting out . They are not staying in family and childcare work. It is too hard and stressful. They do not have a private life. They cannot spend quality time with their own families and children . We have an inordinate number of young graduates, inexperienced childcare social workers, dealing with high-risk cases in the community."
72. There are several explanations for the myriad of difficulties that staff face in the residential sector. The lack of differentiation and specialisation within homes means that staff are being asked to meet the needs of children which are often conflicting. Homes are frequently overcrowded, which causes tension among the children. And since there is a shortage of places in the first place, there tends to be a high proportion of children with particularly challenging behaviours who can be very difficult and disruptive. The impact of the Criminal Justice (Children) Order has served to exacerbate the difficulties faced by staff. In the WHSSB area alone, there were 25 reported assaults by young people on staff last year. There are unreported verbal assaults and scuffles on a daily basis.
73. Liz Millen of BASW (NI) explained that the ratio of staff to children - which can be two or three staff for eight or more children - makes it difficult to do any real constructive work with the children, or even to supervise them properly. There is a high number of casual staff, who are called upon "as and when required" to supplement staff rotas, and this impacts adversely on the quality of care delivered to children's homes. One of the reasons for the need for casual staff is the fact that many units have staff off on long-term sick leave. Witnesses quoted instances of staff having to work through double shifts to cover for colleagues who phoned in sick. The Committee was shocked to learn that average percentage absenteeism rates for residential social workers across two Trusts ranged from 11% to 30%. Furthermore, some 17% of residential social worker posts were unfilled in the EHSSB area as of 1 October 2000.
74. The Minister, when giving evidence to the Committee on 4 October 2000, acknowledged the Department's difficulties in trying to achieve the target number of additional qualified social workers, which is estimated at between 150 and 200. To put the problem in context, she explained that the numbers qualifying from social work training in Northern Ireland have dropped by 22% since 1995. In 1998/99, there was an intake of just 204. On a slightly more positive note, the re-introduction of the Trainee Social Work scheme, which recruits unqualified staff and provides sponsorship to those who will work in residential child care on completion of their training, has started to attract more applications. Also, Queen's University Belfast will be running a specialist post-qualifying social work programme from February 2001.
75. The role of the Team Leader has rightly been identified as crucial to the delivery of quality care in the children's homes. Given that homes operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the managerial responsibilities are particularly demanding for just one person. There was previously provision for the post of a Deputy Team Leader, depending on the number of children in a home, and it is recommended that this post should be reinstated. Consideration should also be given to management support through a Senior Practitioner Grade.
76. The complexity of children's needs in residential care, and the requirement to provide them with a quality service, demands that staff be appropriately trained. The Training Organisation for Personal Social Services in Northern Ireland in its Training Strategy for 2000-2003 identified the following main training needs: management training; dealing with challenging behaviours; preparation for aftercare; and in-service training for non-qualified staff. Staff's "skill mix" and qualifications should be informed by each home's Statement of Purpose and Function. There should also be independent counselling services for staff on stress management. There is a particular need to address the training needs of staff who do not hold a professional social work qualification, which includes the majority of temporary staff.
77. Consideration should be given to a training and support facility for residential care, which would also provide networking opportunities and a central focus for this Cinderella Service. This would help to give staff a sense of empowerment, as well as providing recognition of the sterling work that they do under very trying circumstances.
78. The Castle Priory Report of 1972, 'Residential Task in Child Care', emphasised the need for staff to be better trained in communicating with children. This remains relevant today. Young people attending the 'Into the Millennium' Conference in 1999 advocated changes to the Looked After Care Review system to include more house meetings in children's homes and more talking with staff. They emphasised that meetings should be short, more participative and young person friendly, and involve less professional jargon.
79. There should be a modernisation of the current terms and conditions of residential care staff, including career structures, to take account of the high demands of their work and to act as an incentive to prospective staff. Staff are working extremely unsociable work shifts, including week-ends - sometimes four out of six - without due recognition in terms of compensatory payments.
80. There is also a staffing consideration in relation to the protection of children from unsuitable individuals working within the sector. The Committee very much welcomes the Department's proposal to place on a statutory basis the existing arrangements for checking the suitability of those applying to work with children, and trusts that the new legislation will tighten up the system of vetting. There is also a significant cross-border context to consider in this area, so there is a need to look beyond the equivalent provision in Great Britain.
A regional group should be established charged with producing precise staffing requirements for the existing homes and more specialised provision as the service develops.
A training and support facility for children's residential care within the Northern Ireland Social Care Council should be established, which would cover the key areas of child protection and development of related policies. These would include: managing difficult behaviours; health promotion; education; preparation for leaving care; training for non-qualified staff leading to access to a professional qualification; communication with children skills; and stress management/counselling services.
A modernisation of the pay and conditions of service is imperative for children's residential care social workers, including career structures, to take account of the specialist demands of the job, the high levels of stress and the unsociable hours involved.
The post of Deputy Team Leader should be reinstated where warranted by the number of children in a home.
Secure Care Accommodation
81. The use of secure care accommodation for a child who is looked after by a HSS Trust is governed by Article 44 of the Children Order.
82. For purposes of clarity, the distinction should be made between secure care accommodation, which is the subject of this inquiry, and the secure accommodation for young persons who have been found guilty of offences. The Children Order imposed a statutory separation of training schools catering for young offenders from facilities providing accommodation for children in need of care. Subsequently, the Criminal Justice Order re-designated training schools as Juvenile Justice Centres. The current position is that there are two completely separate entities known respectively as Regional Centres providing care facilities for children, and Juvenile Justice Centres for children aged 10 to 16 who have been found guilty of an offence, or who are on remand.
83. Secure care accommodation is defined as "accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty", and a child cannot be placed therein unless it appears that:
(a) (i) he has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and
(ii) if he absconds, he is likely to suffer significant harm; or
(b) if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.
84. Secure accommodation therefore represents the end of a continuum of care. There is unanimous agreement that in the context of a wider childcare system that is based on specialisation, choice, quality of care and sufficiently resourced accommodation, its use should be kept to an absolute minimum. Nonetheless, while the Committee does not like to see children deprived of their liberty, it reluctantly accepts the weight of evidence which indicates that, in a small number of cases, secure accommodation is required for children or young people who are engaged in behaviour that places themselves or others at risk.
85. At present, there are eight secure care accommodation places for the whole of Northern Ireland, based in Shamrock House at the Lakewood Centre, Bangor. Unfortunately, the lack of secure places in a care setting has frequently meant that the most vulnerable children who clearly satisfied the strict legislative criteria, and for whom the courts have authorised detention, have been unable to gain admission to Lakewood. A queuing system for secure care accommodation, resulting in "seriously at risk young people in dire need of protective care" being kept in the community or inappropriately in an institution of the Criminal Justice System, is a deplorable state of affairs. There can be as many as 15 children waiting for a secure care place at any one time. The Belfast Family Proceeding Court Standing Committee found that this inevitably leads to
". one Trust advancing the case for their most at-risk child and another Trust countering with their worst one; with dangerous and endangered children being maintained for month after month in residential placements to the detriment of the more stable residents."
86. In a High Court judgement by Mr Justice Higgins in 1998, Re AK (T20/98/OCO), he stated
"That there should be a queue for access to secure accommodation seems to me to defeat the purpose of making a secure accommodation order and is inconsistent with the spirit of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order."
His judgement clearly outlined the position in relation to Article 44 by showing that the Court viewed the legislation as merely permitting the Trust to keep the child in secure accommodation, as opposed to entitling a child to a place in secure accommodation. It also indicated that normally the child should already be in secure accommodation when the application is made to the Court. One reason for this is that the child must be in a position to instruct legal representatives to act on his behalf, and this would not be the case if he had absconded. In effect, this means that the Court cannot order for a child to be placed in secure care accommodation when there are no beds available.
87. Barnardo's made the point that the waiting list for secure care accommodation is not even an accurate reflection of need, as those requiring secure accommodation are by definition in an emergency situation where they are at risk to themselves or others. If they cannot access an immediate secure place, they will be dealt with some other way. Barnardo's experience is that it is virtually impossible to get a secure place immediately. There was a most disturbing recent example of a Trust social worker contacting Barnardo's to see if a secure accommodation place could be found in England or Wales for a 15-year-old girl who was being abused through prostitution, as no place could be found for her in Northern Ireland.
88. Given the overall crisis within the children's residential care sector, with a complete lack of proper specialisation and differentiation, it is difficult to know what proportion of the children currently needing secure care accommodation are ending up in this situation unnecessarily. It is quite possible that with a greater choice of earlier differentiated intervention and support, many may not have. The WHSSB believes that the high demand for secure places results directly from a lack of more localised intensive support units with high staff levels to deal with a small number of children who present with very disruptive and challenging behaviour. This is supported by evidence from an experiment in Perth and Kinross and Fife in Scotland, where the usage of small highly staffed units for children with challenging behaviour has resulted in a decreased demand for secure places in that area. If the crisis further down the line of residential provision were addressed and provision corrected, there would likely be a reversal in the upward trend of demand for secure places.
89. The Committee has heard harrowing stories from various witnesses of children requiring secure accommodation actually being returned to the children's home that they had left, thus putting an extra burden on staff and creating an extra risk to other children. Witnesses emphasised the rights of young people in residential care to live in a safe environment, and many commented on anecdotal evidence from children expressing unhappiness that their home was sometimes disrupted by the admission of young people with serious behavioural problems. The lack of secure places has resulted in dangerous and endangered children being maintained for month after month in residential care to the detriment of the more stable residents. This causes serious management problems. The Northern Ireland Court Service's comment that
"we remain astonished that one of these children has not killed or been killed in the past four years"
is a most appalling indictment and serves as the starkest of warnings that the situation must be rectified immediately.
90. The Social Services Inspectorate's submission has confirmed that the absence of the proper type of therapeutic homes has resulted in children having to be accommodated in the secure unit in the absence of alternative services. Within the secure accommodation setting, there needs to be proper specialist provision for children with psychiatric needs, for those who pose a significant risk to others, and services for the respite and longer-term needs of disabled children.
91. In the short term, there is clearly an urgent need for extra secure accommodation places. The Committee noted with interest that Glenmona Resource Centre had offered to help meet some of the unmet demand for secure places by having a unit operational by June 1999. This offer was declined by the Department, in accordance with Regulation 13(1) of the Children (Secure) Accommodation Regulations 1996, which specifically precludes the voluntary sector from providing such a secure facility. The additional facility at the Lakewood site that the Department has commissioned for six secure places has yet to be opened, apparently due to difficulties in recruiting experienced staff. The offer by Glenmona Resource Centre to provide extra secure places to help tackle the crisis in the short term seems to be a practical measure that merits investigation.
92. Several submissions made the point that as the secure places were on one single site east of the Bann, this made it a difficult and expensive trip, often by public transport, for families travelling a considerable distance. Also, the children themselves have to make frequent lengthy trips to the Family Proceedings Court in their area, which can be disruptive and unsettling. The Committee feels that it is important that close contact between children and their families be facilitated, as this acts as an additional protective measure for these most vulnerable children.
93. A further consideration in relation to secure accommodation is the need to ensure adherence to Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that restrictions of a child's liberty be for a minimal time. The current system to review the ongoing need for a child's liberty to be restricted, following the granting of a Secure Accommodation Order, lacks the independence to ensure that children are processed quickly through the system.
94. Moreover, there is a serious question mark over whether the making of a Secure Accommodation Order in the first place is compatible with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which sets out a list of very strict conditions under which a person may be deprived of his liberty. Also, at present a child has no legal mechanism for challenging a Secure Accommodation Order, and this may be in contravention of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which encompasses the right of access to a court.
To help alleviate the current crisis in provision by the statutory sector, the Department should introduce subordinate legislation to lift the current restriction on the voluntary sector from providing secure care accommodation.
The need for secure places should be regularly reviewed, especially as the range of residential provision is extended.
The Department should provide resources to establish a number of small pilots to test the effectiveness of possible alternatives to secure care accommodation.
The Department should carry out a specific evaluation of the Human Rights implications of the use of secure accommodation for children and young people in the care context.
A forum should be established to enable the Court Service and the providers of children's residential care to liaise on issues in relation to secure accommodation.
95. The numbers of children and adolescents with mental health problems are increasing. Co-morbidity is quite frequent, and a significant number of those in need are not receiving the necessary help. Indeed, the Children's Law Centre referred to one study that found 67% of children in care to have psychiatric disorders.
96. Management of such children presents particular challenges and pressures for all forms of residential placement. And, worryingly, the severity of mental health problems among young people has been increasing against a background of ever-reducing resources available for their proper treatment. The statement by Dr Ewan McEwan of the Young People's Centre that ". there have been times when the balance of risk would suggest that placement in an adult facility is a better option than trying to contain the risk in an open adolescent unit" speaks volumes for the current care system's inability to guarantee children a safe home environment.
97. Numerous submissions pointed to the acute lack of provision for children and young people with mental health difficulties, and the use of adult psychiatric wards for their treatment. Belfast City Hospital Trust voiced concern at the lack of adequate facilities for inpatient treatment of patients in the adolescent age group given the considerable numbers requiring admission to hospital for assessment and treatment of acute psychiatric disorders. A Queen's University research study, 'Caring for Young Minds', found that between 1989 and 1995, 1·6% of all admissions to adult psychiatric wards were aged under 18. It also found that, increasingly, the reason children were being admitted to the adult wards was due to the lack of age appropriate provision. The 'Children Matter' report stated that in 1994/95, 233 children were discharged from adult psychiatric wards.
98. The Committee is concerned that the holding of children and young people in adult psychiatric wards may be in contravention of the provisions of The Human Rights Act 1998, and believes that this practice should therefore cease.
99. According to the Trusts Directors' Survey of Unmet Need, 603 children were on child and adolescent psychiatry waiting lists and 14 were in adult mental health and learning disability hospitals on 31 January 2000. These figures give considerable cause for concern. The present provision of just six in-patient adolescent beds in the Young People's Centre is clearly insufficient to meet current demands and must be remedied as a matter of urgency. The plan in the 'Implementing Children Matter' report for an additional eight-bed mental health unit within the NHSSB area should be expedited.
100. The Committee was alarmed to learn that there are waiting lists of up to two years for children in need of specialist psychiatric and psychological counselling. There are insufficient residential facilities for these children and not enough educational, clinical or adolescent psychologists. This is recognised by the Regional Strategy for 1997/2002, which states
"Purchasers should assess the need for further developments in specialist (mental health) services including child and adolescent psychiatry."
The expertise of the psychiatric multi-professional team lies at the heart of the network of residential provision for this age group.
101. The Committee was somewhat encouraged to learn from the Minister that adolescent mental health services is a specific feature of her Budget bid for the coming year (an extra £1m has been provided this year). As a response to a Departmental policy statement on this area in January 1999, the four Boards carried out a joint review of child and adult mental health services. The Department is due to report to the Minister shortly on how best to expand the services so that each Board has proper adolescent psychiatric support. The Committee advocates the need also to focus on preventive measures because, as was pointed out by representatives of Putting Children First, "research shows that early family support reduces the incidence of mental health problems in later life." The Committee will expect the report to indicate clearly what mental health support services for 16- to 18-year-olds are to be developed, as Leaving and After Care Practitioners have identified a yawning gap in provision for this group of young people.
102. Dr Ewan McEwan of the Young People's Centre strongly advocates that the focus for residential services should shift towards incorporating greater skills for therapeutic intervention with children, requiring joint training across professions. He recommends that the Adolescent Psychiatry Service, with a proven record in effective treatment, should contribute to such training. The Service has also pioneered the post of Clinical Referrals Co-ordinator, which can benefit staff of residential homes through the provision of urgent assessment and consultation from a practitioner who has automatic access to the full range of specialist psychiatric services.
The provision of an additional eight-bed mental health unit, as outlined in 'Implementing Children Matter', should be expedited.
The treatment of children and young people within adult psychiatric wards should cease.
The forthcoming Departmental report mapping out future provision of adolescent psychiatric support should focus on preventive measures. It should also clearly indicate what mental health services are to be developed for 16- to 18-year-olds.
The Department's plans for the development of mental health support services should include joint training across professions for therapeutic intervention with children, and also include an input from the Adolescent Psychiatry Service.
103. Despite the provision in part IV of the Children Order for family support services and respite care for children with a disability, the lack of differentiated accommodation and respite provision has meant that disabled children are often inappropriately placed. Lack of specialised provision means that children with a disability, and those with severe psychiatric problems, are being inappropriately placed in hospitals and other adult facilities. The Committee was horrified to hear from NIPSA that ". an eight-year-old Down's syndrome child should be in the same children's home as a 15-year-old involved in solvent abuse and prostitution . That same unit cannot meet the specific individual assessment needs of those two different children."
104. In the WHSSB area, there are no specialist residential places for young people with disabilities, and the picture for Northern Ireland is one of sporadic, limited provision. The Ulster Hospital and Community Trust reports an increase in the number of children assessed as having learning difficulties, which has implications for staffing and associated services.
105. In Foyle Trust alone, there are two children with learning disabilities in a large open children's home. NIPSA pointed out that of 250 young people with learning disabilities in the Foyle area, 65 avail of respite residential care annually, and these cases have to be reviewed twice per year. Yet, there is no dedicated childcare social worker for these children who are maintained on adult caseloads, and no extra resources to provide the specialised help that they need. There is no respite facility in North and West Belfast for children with a learning disability. Consequently, a number of adolescents currently receive treatment at Muckamore Abbey Hospital for prolonged periods because suitable homes are not available.
106. On a more positive note, the annual report of the Registration and Inspection Unit of the EHSSB indicated that a consultant paediatrician, a clinical psychologist, and a consultant psychiatrist (where appropriate) have input to both respite care facilities in the Board area. This level of specialist support should be available as a matter of course for all respite care units in Northern Ireland.
107. There is common agreement among experts that there should be sub-regional specialist provision for respite care for children with a disability who present varying degrees of dependency. The recently announced Carers and Disabled Children Bill will provide parents with a choice in the sourcing of care provision following assessment, but this will need to be matched in terms of sufficient resources for its full implementation.
The Department should urgently commission a study of the residential needs of disabled children.
The residential care provision for disabled children as outlined in 'Implementing Children Matter' should be expedited.
108. "Children's right to education" is enshrined in Article 28 of the UN Convention on The Rights of The Child.
109. The present level of educational achievement by children in residential care is depressingly low. The written submission by First Key stated that 50% of young people leaving care in Northern Ireland have no educational or vocational qualifications. While it may be overambitious to expect this disadvantaged group to match the educational standards of the mainstream school population, the Committee is confident that with the necessary support measures, a substantial improvement can be made.
110. Maintaining children and young persons in care in mainstream education continues to pose considerable problems for staff in children's homes. The NHSSB's Registration and Inspection Unit in its annual report of 1999/2000 commented on the fact that, for several months that year, one home had over half its residents excluded from their schools, and two others had varying numbers of children excluded. The Education Committee of the Assembly noted its concern
"that because no record is kept of multiple suspensions, children, particularly those 'in care', could in effect be missing a substantial amount of formal education."
111. As the numbers of young people suspended, excluded or experiencing school-related difficulties have increased, so the interface with the education system poses a particular challenge for residential care workers. Staff are having to manage young persons who do not attend school and, on occasion, provide educational input when it is not being provided by other services.
112. An education audit of children and young people in residential care in the NHSSB area carried out by the Board, Trusts and the Education and Library Board found that education tends to take a low priority in the context of other needs, changing circumstances and care issues. This is partly reflected by the revelation in the audit that the Education Section in the children's Action and Assessment Records were either incomplete or out of date. This is a glaring shortcoming as these records are intended to inform statutory care planning, reviews, and enable decision-making.
113. One of the recommendations flowing from a conference series run by First Key and Voice of Young People in Care in 1999 was for the full integration of young people's educational needs into care planning arrangements. The pressing need for such co-ordination was reinforced by the Department of Education's written submission, which confirmed that
"It is often the case . that schools are not aware that a child has been taken into care (unless this was made apparent to the school when the child was enrolled). It is a concern of teachers and Education Welfare Officers that information-sharing between Social Services and education professionals about children in care is in many instances not as effective as it should be."
114. A more co-ordinated approach between the various Agencies and Departments is therefore clearly needed in relation to children in residential care. For example, there are no records on the number of children involved, the placement types, and the history of the child's educational attainment.
115. A matter of concern highlighted by the Registration and Inspection Unit of the NHSSB is that exclusions have continued to be made without prior notification to the home. It is therefore encouraging to note that one of the key objectives of the report of the Northern Area Children and Young People's Committee Children's Services Plan for the coming year is for the agreement of protocols for responding to non-attendance and to the identified risk of non-attendance. The report also states the "need to ensure that, where training events are taking place, the significance of non-attendance is given a high profile".
116. There is a need for an agreed protocol between Trusts and the Education and Library Boards regarding the education of young people in care, particularly those who are disruptive in school, and to develop strategies for retaining them within the school structure.
117. The Committee welcomes the joint funding by the Department, the Department of Education (DE), and Save the Children for research into the educational experiences of young people in care and the views of the professionals who work with and support them, with a view to informing policy decisions about the most effective types of interventions.
118. The NHSSB Registration and Inspection Unit also highlighted a concern about the unco-ordinated and unstructured usage of computers across the Trusts. It recommended the exploitation and exploration of computers for educational purposes, especially with regard to those children not attending school. This would correspondingly require the development by staff of the necessary skills to support and encourage young people.
A joint working group should be established, representing the Department, the NIO, the HSS Trusts, the Education and Library Boards, and the voluntary sector, in order to formulate an agreed protocol regarding the education of young people in care, including those within the juvenile justice system. It should also develop strategies for keeping them within the school structure. Particular attention should be given to those young people who are disruptive in school, or who are excluded from school.
Effect of the Criminal Justice (Children) Order
119. Putting Children First, in their presentation to the Committee on children's services of 21 June 2000, highlighted the significant proportion of children from a care background entering the juvenile justice system. Also, changes in the criminal justice system have meant that the options for placement of problematic young people are greatly reduced, and all units are having to cope with young people who would previously have been housed in training schools.
120. The Criminal Justice (Children) Order aims to ensure that custody for children aged from 10 to 17 is used to the minimum extent. Indeed, the Criminal Justice Review has recommended that 10- to 13-year-olds should not be entering a custodial setting at all. The Criminal Justice (Children) Order also established the Juvenile Justice Centres that replaced the training schools in February 1999. Although the courts can make a Juvenile Justice Order for up to two years, the standard length is six months, of which half is spent in custody and the other half under supervision in the community. The impact of the Criminal Justice (Children) Order has been to place a number of children with histories of offending behaviour in non-specialised children's homes. These children pose serious management difficulties and upset the routine of care for other residents. The system is already letting these children down because they are not being provided with the necessary specialist care. Indeed, the Committee was shocked to learn that a number of young teenage girls are being currently being held in the Women's Section of Maghaberry Prison due to a lack of suitable care accommodation.
121. The number of children in Juvenile Justice Centres has reduced from 86 on 31 October 1997 to 33 on 31 October 1999. However, the total number of admissions has risen over a similar period from 285 to 323. The main reason for this increase is due to the rising number of Police and Criminal Evidence Order (PACE) remands (97 (in 1997) to 170 (in 1999)).
122. A significant number of children remanded under PACE are children looked after by HSS Trusts. As stated above, there are indications that their behaviour in residential units, together with the lack of residential places, has resulted in their being remanded to a Juvenile Justice Centre, rather than being bailed. The high usage of Juvenile Justice Centres for looked-after children is a major source of concern: of the total young people admitted to Juvenile Justice Centres between 1 September and 12 December 1999, 26 (25%) were looked after by the HSS Trusts. The NIO reports that in the past 12 months, almost one third of children admitted to custody came direct from children's homes across Northern Ireland. This included 68 young people who were typically charged with situational offences committed in or around children's homes such as criminal assault or damage. Many of these children entered custody under remand or PACE procedures simply because they were beyond the control of the residential homes and no suitable alternatives were available within the care system.
123. It is therefore important to have clarification on the interaction between the duties to children in need under the Children Order, which includes a specific duty on social services to children who are offenders, and the obligations in relation to the Criminal Justice (Children) Order. For example, a glaring anomaly between the two pieces of legislation lies in the fact that the Children Order defines a "child" as anyone under the age of 18, whereas the definition under the Criminal Justice (Children) Order is anyone under 17 years.
124. One of the fundamental purposes of the Children Order was to separate Care and Crime cases and issues, which is obviously desirable. However, the Family Proceedings Court Standing Committee reports the increasing practice of remanding children into custody "because of the absence of care facilities and staff capable of dealing with their complex problems and difficult behaviour." Similarly some of it members found themselves reluctantly admitting that the provision of decent residential care had reached the point where they "would prefer to see such children being exposed to 'loving neglect' by inadequate parents rather than inadequate care by a neglectful government agency." This is a shocking state of affairs.
125. The impact of the Criminal Justice (Children) Order is an additional consideration that needs to be addressed alongside the implementation proposals in 'Children Matter'. It has placed greater demands on children's facilities, as young people are receiving shorter periods of care in the Regional Justice Centres. Trusts have not received additional resources to meet these demands, and this leads to problems when the young offenders are placed with children with identified specialist needs.
126. There is common agreement that the long-term needs of these children are not best served by time in custody, especially where this may not be justified in terms of the seriousness of their offending. It is clear, therefore, that specific facilities suitable for looking after offenders will have to be factored into the overall integrated residential care service. The North and West Belfast Trust alone has identified the need for 12 hostel places for the juvenile justice population in its development plan for 2000-2005. The NHSSB has developed, along with Causeway and Homefirst Trusts, a service specification for a residential unit to meet the needs of children with histories of offending.
127. Glenmona Resource Centre has commissioned Building Design Partnership (BDP) to draw up a development plan to address the issues raised in 'Children Matter', including examining the potential for Glenmona to meet the shortfall in service provision created by the Criminal Justice (Children) Order. BDP has consulted widely across the HSS Boards and Trusts, the NIO, the Probation Service, the Education and Housing Sectors, and Planning and community groups.
The Department and the NIO need to clarify the interaction between the duties to children in need under the Children Order, which includes a specific duty on social services to children who are offenders, and the obligations in relation to the Criminal Justice (Children) Order.
The Department's strategic regional plan for children's residential care services must factor in specific facilities suitable for looking after offenders. The potential for the voluntary sector to provide such care-based facilities, and to trial alternatives, must be fully explored.
128. Children who are admitted to residential care are among the most vulnerable in our society. Many have low self-esteem and lack confidence in themselves and adults. They can be especially vulnerable to bullying and abuse from peers and adults. They therefore deserve the highest standards of protection from the state.
129. The introduction of provision for Independent Visitors by Article 31 of the Children Order was therefore particularly welcome. The role of an Independent Visitor is to befriend, advise and have an independent relationship with the child or young person. This provides the child or young person with an additional safeguard in situations where they are being looked after away from home with little contact with parents, or otherwise isolated in a care setting. Moreover, this role of befriender has the potential to be developed beyond the young persons' leaving care, thereby bringing an element of consistency that might not otherwise be available, and so helping the person through difficult identity issues later on in life.
130. Research by the NSPCC, in its paper 'Official Friends and Friendly Officials', has shown that Independent Visitors are highly valued by young people, who have commented on their positive impact. The Independent Visitors were seen as playing an important role in mediating or advising young people when problems arose. However, the legislation is narrowly drafted and has been interpreted restrictively by many Trusts, with the result that only a minority of children in care have actually been able to avail of the scheme. The Committee pays credit to the WHSSB, which is working to establish an Independent Visiting scheme that goes beyond the minimum statutory requirements and is available for all children in care in its area. The other HSS Boards should be encouraged to follow suit.
131. Colin Reid of Putting Children First highlighted the shortcoming in the part of the Children Order dealing with Independent Visitors when he gave evidence to the Committee on children's services. He explained
"The difficulty is that it sets out certain conditions and is only a discretionary power. Many children in care do not have an Independent Visitor . It is regarded as a very good system, but very few children get the option of an Independent Visitor in Northern Ireland. Therefore, one of the recommendations we would make would be to consider changing the legislation to make it a requirement that all children should, if they wish, have an Independent Visitor."
When an authority is looking after any child, where not placed with his/her parents, that authority should, as a matter of course, in conjunction with the child or young person, appoint an Independent Visitor.
132. The Children Order imposed a new duty on HSS Trusts in respect of leaving and aftercare responsibilities. Article 35 of the Children Order requires that where a child is being looked after by a Trust, it "shall advise, assist and befriend him with a view to promoting his welfare when he ceases to be looked after".
133. These powers are consistent with the responsibilities of Trusts to act as "good parents" to the young people in their care, in offering them support throughout the difficult period of leaving home and establishing an independent life. The period of preparation for transition into adulthood and independent living is particularly challenging for young people in care, and they need to be able to draw upon a wide range of formal and informal support. They are expected to cope with a wide range of issues at a much younger age than the wider population, crammed into a short space of time. They are significantly disadvantaged in comparison to others, in terms of accommodation, sense of loneliness, low self-esteem, low educational attainment, pregnancy and parenthood, to name but a few.
134. Unfortunately, research shows that crucial support resources may be in very short supply. The low level of supported living provision for young care leavers, who as a group experience multiple deprivation, is unacceptable. The Committee noted with deep concern the comment from 'The Children Order Report 1999' that, some 18 months after the commencement of the Children Order, "nearly half of the HSS Trusts did not have framework for developing their leaving and aftercare programmes. In addition, few HSS Trusts had published information about the range of aftercare services that they, along with other agencies, provide to young people leaving care."
135. The submission from First Key refers to the comment by the SSI that, in the last three years, relatively fewer and fewer young people have been leaving care from a residential setting (falling from 30% in 1996/1997 to 25% in 1998/99). There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers leaving care from other 'placements' such as homeless hostels and semi-independent living. Also, fewer 16-year-olds are leaving care. (It is very possible that due to the shortage in residential places, fewer 15- and 16-year-olds are being received into care.) In any event, these two sets of findings clearly suggest that fewer and fewer young people are receiving formal preparation for leaving care.
136. In response to the SSI consultation paper on 'Leaving and Aftercare in Northern Ireland', aftercare practitioners voiced concern at the current piecemeal, disjointed display of aftercare provision across the region. The practitioners felt that there were significant gaps in provision for care leavers that needed to be filled in relation to: housing support services; inter-agency planning, co-ordinating and commissioning of services; preparation for leaving care; counselling; education; and financial support. It is not surprising, therefore, that looked-after children frequently make the plea for urgent parity of esteem across the Trusts.
137. The authors of the 'Northern Ireland Leaving Care Research Project' (1996) recommended that all young people in care should have a "through-care plan" to address their preparation and aftercare needs, and aim to promote self-esteem and enhance practical living skills. They also recommended that young people should be actively involved in drawing up, implementing and reviewing their own "through-care plans" along with residential staff, designated social services staff, parents and foster carers. The through-care planning should seek contributions from a wide range of agencies such as schools, employment training, probation, health, social security and housing.
138. The involvement of young people is absolutely crucial in identifying their needs for leaving and aftercare, and for developing appropriate services. The report 'People Like Us', undertaken by Sir William Utting in 1997, that reviewed the safeguards for children living away from home in England, made the point that "the experience of young people should be used in developing policy, practice and training for services for children who live away from home." The Committee was struck by a selection of quotes from young people involved in an Audit of Needs and User Consultation.
"Preparation should start as soon as you come into care." "Young mothers are particularly vulnerable - need adequate support with child care." "Start preparation early - understand price of things, teach how to pay bills, how to spend time on own, how to save and put money away and understand the benefit system."
139. The Committee noted with deep concern reference in the SSI's report 'Promoting Independence: A review of Leaving and Aftercare services', which indicated that many Trusts considered their leaving and aftercare services still to be at a developmental stage. This is some five years after the introduction of the Children Order, which imposed a statutory requirement on the authorities to advise, assist and befriend a young person with a view to promoting his welfare when he ceases to be looked after.
140. It is a well-established fact that achievements for children in residential care are extremely low. For example, they are 10 times more likely to be excluded from school, are over-represented in teenage pregnancies, are far more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, be homeless, unemployed or suffer mental health problems.
141. It is therefore encouraging to learn from the Minister that a Northern Ireland Leaving Care Bill is due to be introduced next year because at present there are no real safeguards for young people once they leave care. This legislation should therefore ensure that Trusts discourage young people from leaving care too early, provide substantial preparatory support, address financial support needs, provide quality accommodation, and help produce better outcomes for young people in terms of education, employment and housing. The Committee looks forward to considering the legislation in detail during the Committee Stage of the Bill.
142. The Committee considers that the establishment of an Aftercare Team would be a positive measure to aid the Trusts in their statutory responsibilities to help young people meet the challenges of living independently. There is a need for more resettlement skills programmes and to address the apparent reluctance of young people to engage with what is currently being provided. Aftercare programmes should address the issue of abusive behaviour given the number of relationships that begin between young people within the care system. The Committee notes that the Northern Ireland Women's Aid Federation has an excellent preventive programme to assist young people in working on relationships and exploring domestic violence. Such programmes should be used to inform Trusts' plans for aftercare services.
143. The Committee is very conscious of the positive impact of the Quality Protects programme for England and Wales on children leaving care, in terms of maximising their benefits from educational opportunities, health care and social care. Some £370m has been devoted to this initiative over three years. It is disturbing that this policy had not been introduced to Northern Ireland prior to devolution, given the deficit in funding for children's services here and the crisis within the residential sector. The Committee notes, though, the Minister's proposal for a regional overview that will replicate, as appropriate, the objectives of the Quality Protects Programme.
All young people in care must have a "through-care plan" to address fully their preparation and aftercare needs. In addition to developing their Leaving and Aftercare programmes, HSS Trusts should publish information about the services that they, and other agencies, provide to young people leaving care.
An Aftercare Team should be established as an aid to the Trusts in delivering their statutory responsibilities to help young people meet the challenges of living independently.
The Department should introduce a Quality Protects initiative within the next twelve months, with a target of attainment for care leavers and the necessary funding and resources to secure better outcomes for children leaving care.
144. One of the key themes of the Children Order is prevention. The Children Order placed the child at the centre of services for children, in recognition that prevention was better for children and families than protection. Article 18 of the Order makes provision for the wherewithal for family support, prevention, family centres, therapeutic input, parenting skills and respite facilities. To protect children, there must be a balance between supporting families, early intervention services for children, and preventative services. NIPSA made the point that "failure to invest in prevention, community and family support is a false economy and results in the Trusts and Boards being forced to concentrate on more expensive options."
145. Margaret Kelly of Putting Children First emphasised the importance of significant funding for
". the kind of early preventative services which can make a real difference to families and children. Many of these are provided by the voluntary and community services, often with uncertain funding . There is a serious need for family support services to be adequately resourced and funded in order to protect children and prevent them from entering the care system where at all possible."
Eileen Webster of NIPSA stated "We must develop all those preventative measures so that we can look forward to the day when we can reduce residential care places."
146. A particular difficulty faced by the voluntary sector in providing preventive services is the short-term funding context under which they operate. It is vital that organisations like Parents Advice Centre and Homestart are sufficiently resourced to enable them to carry out their very valuable services. The provision of effective universal family support services would have the effect of reducing the numbers of children coming into social services, graduating into the residential care system and very possibly ending up with mental health problems.
147. The initial investment of £2m this year in the Sure Start programme, which targets families with children in disadvantaged areas, is to be welcomed but significant extra dedicated resources are needed. The Committee notes the Executive's Public Expenditure Plans for 2001/02, which provide for an expansion in Sure Start coverage in areas of social disadvantage by almost 50% - targeting 16,000 children under the age of four. The creation of a new Children's Fund with an initial proposed allocation of £27m over the next three years to provide support for children in need and young people at risk is also a welcome preventive measure.
In recognition of the vital preventive role played by family support services, and in accordance with Article 18 of the Children Order, sufficient resources must be made available to such services, on a long-term basis, to facilitate their proper planning.
148. The foster care service is directly linked to residential care, as children require different services to meet their assessed needs. Indeed, fostering placements frequently require regular respite support from residential care services to sustain at-risk placements. Likewise, some children need a period in residential care in preparation for reintegration within a family setting. Any pressure on one of these services has therefore direct implications for the functioning of the other. Failure to find suitable foster placements can lead to children and young people going into residential care. It is therefore crucial to try to ensure that the recruitment of foster parents keeps pace with the demand for places, and also to provide efficient evaluation and monitoring mechanisms for these placements.
149. Foster care has been the predominant placement for looked-after children in Northern Ireland for a considerable time, in line with the policy of successive Regional Strategies. In 1997/98 there were 2354 looked-after children, of whom 64% were in foster care. However, the recruitment and retention of foster carers has become increasingly difficult. Information from the HSS Trusts' Directors of Social Services indicated that the number of children awaiting a fostering placement increased from 143 in September 1999 to 290 on 31 January 2000. The lack of foster care places resulted in an appropriate pattern of care not being available for children, with many living at home at increased levels of risk.
150. The 'Children Matter' report highlighted the manner in which a shortage of foster carers, fostering places and placement instability all impact on the overall childcare welfare system and children's residential services. What happens in one part of the system affects other parts. The dearth of children's residential care places has placed increased pressures on foster carers, who have to tend for children with more complex and challenging needs than before and therefore need more support. For example, Barnardo's Professional Fostering Project has, on average, a ratio of 3·5 support staff to 20 sets of carers, whereas a Trust would have one social worker supporting 20 to 30 carers.
151. The most recent SSI inspection of foster care in Northern Ireland, 'Fostering in Northern Ireland: Children and their Carers' (1998), found a high degree of placement instability, with 45% experiencing more than three moves and 40% more than three fostering placements. As with residential care, the selection of placement was generally based upon the existence of a vacancy rather than the assessed needs of a child; choice of placement was frequently not an option. The Committee was horrified to hear from Putting Children First of a recent case where a four-year-old boy had had 45 separate care moves. The Children's Law Centre believes that given the development of case law in the European Court of Human Rights, "such cases will ultimately lead to challenges against social services."
152. The inspection found that almost seven in 10 foster carers were aged between 40 and 60, and were therefore within the age in which people retire and cease fostering. Also, in the year prior to inspection the number of foster carers recruited was insufficient to redress the number who had stopped fostering. So, there is not only a need to recruit but also to address the reasons why so many carers are leaving the service. Margaret Kelly of Putting Children First told the Committee
"My understanding is that the fostering pool has dropped, not necessarily because recruitment levels have dropped, but because people who have been fostering have found it so difficult that they have dropped out. Perhaps rather than recruiting more foster parents, we need more support, training and respite provision to retain those whom we already have."
153. In 1999, the UK National Foster Care Standards and the Code of Practice for the Recruitment, Selection, Training and Support of Foster Carers were launched, both of which carry significant financial implications. These will help to inform a common approach to managing and delivering fostering services across the UK. This is particularly welcome given the finding of the SSI's 1998 inspection report that fostering teams were under-resourced to undertake the recruitment, selection, training and support functions associated with sustaining Trusts' fostering services.
154. The Committee was therefore encouraged by comments made by the Minister, Ms Bairbre de Brún, in giving evidence to the Committee when she promised ". the improvement of fostering budgets to increase payments to carers and provide greater support to foster carers." She added "Among the fostering initiatives being undertaken by Boards and Trusts is the development of a regional strategy to address recruitment difficulties. This will introduce training plans for foster carers and fostering staff, and assist the development of local support groups for foster carers."
155. The Committee welcomes the initiative by Down Lisburn Trust in developing a Community Placement Scheme to recruit and train carers who would have the necessary skills to provide placements for challenging children and young people. The Committee believes that as the biggest source of recruitment of carers is other carers, their support, respite provision and training requirements need to be urgently addressed. This must include an out-of-hours service that does not simply put foster carers in touch with a duty social worker but with someone who is familiar with their situation.
156. As Northern Ireland appears near the bottom of the boarding-out rates that should cover the costs of children living with foster carers, these rates must be reviewed urgently. Barnardo's have cited cases where foster carers have been out of pocket and where payment can take weeks.
157. There must be proper funding to enable the full implementation of National Foster Carer Standards. It is vital that the skills of foster carers are recognised and valued.
"Foster Parents cannot be paid enough for the demands that are placed upon them . It costs £120,000 to keep one child in a juvenile justice centre. That is a high price. Offset that against adequately compensating foster parents."
158. The Committee welcomes the investigation by Barnardo's into Treatment Fostering, which is an alternative for care or custodial sentence and places young people with challenging behaviour with foster parents who are trained to provide close supervision, consistent consequences and a supportive relationship. This programme has been extremely well evaluated and could complement the range of services for protecting and supporting children.
The Department should implement urgently a regional strategy to address the support needs (including an out-of-hours service), respite provision, and training requirements of foster carers.
The current boarding-out rates for fostering in Northern Ireland should be reviewed and uprated to reflect and fully recognise the skills and demands of foster caring. Particular recognition should be given to those who require specialist skills in caring for children with more challenging behaviours.
159. There have been striking changes in adoption services in recent years, with social structures enabling single women to control pregnancies, terminate unwanted pregnancies or bring up their own children. This has meant a sharp reduction in the number of infants available for adoption from birth. Children available for adoption are therefore increasingly those within the care system who have no prospect of returning to their families.
160. Sufficient research now exists to indicate that adopted children fare better than those who remain in care throughout their childhood. As opposed to foster care, adoption provides children with the security and continuity of a stable family environment for life.
161. The Committee therefore noted with concern figures provided by the SSI that showed that out of a total population of 2402 of looked-after children here in 1999, a mere 65 (2·7%) were adopted. This compares very poorly with adoption rates in England, which range from 3% to as high as 30%. There, permanency planning for children through adoption is viewed as an integral aspect of child welfare services.
162. In light of the above, the Committee was encouraged to learn from the Minister that work is proceeding in this area. Acknowledging that something can and needs to be done to raise adoption levels here, she said
"At present the Social Services Inspectorate is carrying out a review of adoption services with the aim of bringing adoption more into mainstream of services. The review will be completed later in the year and will show how to strengthen our adoption services so that adoption can be considered as an option for more children in care."
163. The Committee looks forward to recommendations flowing from the review on how to develop and promote adoption services within the overall context of children's services.
The outcome of the review of adoption services should be issued for wide consultation.
CHILDREN MATTER MODEL
164. 'Children Matter' set out in detail an action plan to take forward the expansion of residential provision and the differentiation of the sector. More recently, the four HSS Boards produced a joint document 'Implementing Children Matter', which outlined their strategy to increase the number and range of residential homes over the next five years. There is clear consensus that the implementation of the model of services in 'Children Matter' would address the serious problems that currently plague the system. The range of complex needs of children in residential care demands a corresponding range of homes capable of meeting their specialist requirements.
165. It is equally clear, though, that to do so will require a significant capital investment to replace or refurbish unsatisfactory units, and to develop new services that will enable the size of units to be reduced. There are also revenue expenditure implications for the reduction in size and the differentiation and specialisation of provision, with the consequential loss in economies of scale. The need for improved staffing levels will result in higher unit costs. 'Implementing Children Matter' estimated the capital costs of additional provision at £26m, with associated ongoing annual revenue costs of £11m for the necessary expansion of residential provision.
166. The Committee feels it is an absolute imperative for the necessary funds to be made available for the expansion of the range of services so that the quality of life and future life chances of the looked-after children population are substantially improved. If there should be special treatment for any group in society, it should be for vulnerable children. The proposed model within 'Children Matter' does not, however, involve preferential treatment - it is merely the means by which these children can be provided with the type of decent, stable home environment that they are fully entitled to expect in a developed society.
167. The basic principle underpinning the proposed model of residential provision is that it is based on the assessment of each child's individual needs, fully respecting the rights of the child. A service that is focused on producing positive child-centred outcomes must therefore be part of an integrated, broadly-based range of services that is readily accessible. There should be no question whatsoever of children having to "queue" for appropriate places anywhere within the system, as is currently the case.
168. The 'Children Matter' model of residential provision is pyramid-based, with secure accommodation at the apex and a range of general small-scale, locally-provided children's homes at the bottom. This accords with the UN Convention On The Rights of The Child and with The Human Rights Act 1998. These homes would themselves be differentiated in nature and operate with explicit admission criteria and policies based on clear Statements of Purpose and Function, which would inform admission arrangements to each home. These Statements of Purpose should be reviewed annually by the Trusts. 'Implementing Children Matter' emphasises the importance of children's residential homes having greater clarity of purpose and focus, as "evidence shows that these are factors associated with the better functioning of residential units." At present units have frequently been unable to work within their Statements of Purpose because of the need to respond to emergency placements. Until a sufficient range of specialist units is developed, it is unlikely that they will be able to operate within their Statements of Purpose. Additional specialist provision such as educational psychologists can be purchased within these homes as required.
169. The differentiated group at the base of the pyramid would serve three broad sets of children's needs. The first type of unit would be geared towards managing emergency admissions with a view to returning children quickly to their carers. The second would be a medium-stay unit offering intensive support after the disruption of a long-term placement, which would provide children with time to prepare for fostering or independent living. The third type would provide a "home life" with the emphasis on group living for young people who choose independent living, or for whom further disruption ought to be avoided. The occupancy level for each unit should be set according to its function but should not exceed eight places. Many units at present are exceeding their contracted numbers due to the statutory requirement to provide accommodation.
170. The middle level should encompass four types of sub-regional specialist provision:
171. These specialist units by their nature should be small-scale, with a maximum of six single bedrooms. They should be highly staffed and contain direct input of services, such as psychiatric support and family therapies. It is also important that these homes be strategically placed across Northern Ireland with a view to maintaining children as close as possible to their communities, in accordance with the Children Order.
172. At the apex of the pyramid is the secure care accommodation. While the use of such accommodation should be kept to a minimum, there is clear evidence that the current number of places (eight) is insufficient, and this needs to be increased in the short term. However, the position with regard to secure places should be constantly reviewed. If all of the other tiers of the pyramid were in place and operating effectively, the need for secure places could well be reduced.
173. The Children Matter Task Force commissioned by the Minister to take forward the strategic plan for the expansion of services will clearly need to synchronise changes to the provision of intensive support to ensure a continuity of service. These services are currently provided by the Regional Child Care Centres, whose three-year rolling contracts run to 2001/2002. A number of new units may need to come on stream simultaneously, which will require meticulous planning.
The model of residential care provision as outlined in 'Children Matter' should be urgently implemented in order to provide the additional minimum of 115 children's residential care places required.
174. One crucial point that witnesses made time and again is the absolute need for an overarching strategy to improve the welfare of all looked-after children in Northern Ireland. Barnardo's made the important point that it was the absence of such a comprehensive strategy for children in residential care that lead to the voluntary sector facing intolerable pressures in trying to deliver undifferentiated services that could not possibly meet the diverse and specialised needs of the children and young people within the sector. The voluntary sector has been working in a strategic vacuum when it needed to be collaborating with the statutory sector to develop a responsive set of services. This has ultimately contributed to the rapid retraction of its services in the residential sector.
175. The voluntary sector feels vulnerable and threatened in the absence of strategic direction. A common complaint from witnesses within that sector related to the short-term funding context under which they currently have to operate, and their perceived inability to influence meaningfully the long-term planning for children's services. This is in spite of the existence of Article 18 of the Children Order, which is to facilitate the operation of the statutory and voluntary sectors together in partnership. Given the urgent need for residential and secure places across the board, this is an unacceptable state of affairs.
176. Frank McKeating of Glenmona Resource Centre made the point persuasively that the voluntary sector needs to be able to plan for the future with some degree of confidence and security, not least because of staffing considerations. Glenmona is working on a rolling three-year contract that runs out in 2002. After that, the future is uncertain. One instance was cited of a Trust withdrawing £60,000 from a voluntary organisation towards the end of a financial year in order to address other budget difficulties. Clearly services cannot be run like that. The Committee is of the opinion that the Department should award the voluntary sector minimum five-year contracts, with dedicated resources, to ensure that appropriate planning can be made to facilitate the development of existing and additional services.
177. The present commissioning arrangements are confusing, and it is not clear where responsibilities lie between the Department, the Boards and the Trusts in terms of bringing together a co-ordinated strategic plan for looked-after children's services across Northern Ireland. The Committee notes the Minister's commitment to "find some way of publicly breaking that down into easily accessible information" and eagerly awaits the outworkings of such. A cross-cutting Departmental strategy would also necessarily include the voluntary and private sectors, involving clear policy objectives and outcomes. There is some concern that the absence of such an approach may lead to an uneven pattern of provision and further fragmentation of services.
178. The Committee therefore sees considerable merit in joint commissioning and work partnerships between the statutory and voluntary agencies. It was encouraged by the Minister's statement, when she gave evidence, that the purpose of the regional plan for children's services is to ensure "that Boards work in collaboration with voluntary and statutory agencies in assessing and providing an appropriate range of services" and by her commitment to "build and improve on the work going on there at present." The Director of Child and Community Care, Leslie Frew, added "We shall obviously want to involve the private and voluntary sectors in the provision of these services."
179. The Committee was therefore concerned about the absence of any input from the voluntary sector into the Children Matter Task Force commissioned by the Minister to drive forward the necessary expansion within the residential sector, given the crucial historical role played by that sector, which is currently working up proposals for future residential provision for children. For example, Child Care Northern Ireland is interested in the development of service delivery partnerships in relation to community-based respite care schemes and services to tackle the increasing demands of the Criminal Justice (Children) Order.
180. The Committee is, though, encouraged by the Minister's acknowledgement of "the knowledge and expertise of, and the work being carried out by, voluntary organisations" and her commitment to considering an input from them into the Task Force. The inclusive Task Force should be given full authority and dedicated resources, as the body corporate, to carry through the strategic plan within a set timeframe from planning through to implementation, reporting directly and regularly to the Minister.
181. The Committee agrees that in order to address fully the needs of children within the residential sector and provide the range of differentiated and specialised units necessary, there must be a co-ordinated strategic response involving input from the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. This response must be formulated within the wider context of social service provision to take account of the complementary family support services, diversionary programmes, foster care, and the forthcoming legislative changes in relation to aftercare services and child protection.
182. Little research seems to have been carried out in relation to why children enter care at the point of admission. More emphasis should be placed on establishing the factors that contribute to children and young people having to enter the residential system, with a view to providing community support mechanisms. Early intervention is extremely important.
183. It is also important to consult with children and young people who have direct experience of the residential sector about the future provision of services. Once the Children Matter Task Force has formulated a plan of the range, type and location of residential units, it should seek feedback from the children in compliance with Section 75 obligations of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Those engaged in the consultation process should be specifically trained in relation to talking to children.
184. The Committee is of the view that any regional child care strategy for Northern Ireland should draw upon new initiatives within the residential child care sector both in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and further afield. For example, the current Perth & Kinross and Fife experiment in the use of small units with higher staffing ratios is already showing positive results: there is a reduced need for secure placements, a reduction in placements outside their areas, and positive feedback from the residents and registration and inspection teams.
185. One of the major stumbling blocks to the creation of a future model of specialist, differentiated and local provision of children's homes to meet their complex needs lies with planning issues and the weight of objections from local communities to new homes in their areas. This was clearly highlighted by the number of responses that the Committee received directly in relation to the new private home in Killadeas, County Fermanagh. A new home in the Lisburn/Dunmurry area for children with long-term specialist needs is now proceeding after a delay of two years, due in part to local opposition. A further complication lies with the unacceptable delays in conducting economic appraisals.
186. Children in care have, unfortunately, suffered from negative stereotyping in the past, and this persists today. Their interests have never been given a high profile in spite of their damaging experiences. The Committee accepts that the issue of new children's homes should be treated with sensitivity but is resolute in its determination that the Boards and Trusts be given full support in meeting the needs of these children. It fully supports the Minister when she said
"It is essential that people work with local communities to raise awareness and understanding of those valued members of our society who need services, who need help, and who need our welcome and understanding."
187. With some fifteen to twenty new homes envisaged to meet the current needs within the sector, the issue of planning will inevitably feature high on any regional strategic plan.
The Department should provide the voluntary sector with minimum five-year rolling contracts in order to facilitate better planning within that sector.
There should be a transparent, co-ordinated regional strategic plan for looked-after children's services in Northern Ireland, with joint commissioning and work partnerships between the statutory, voluntary, and private sectors involving clear policy objectives and outcomes. The strategy should draw upon new initiatives within the residential child care sector both in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and further afield.
A Task Force, including the voluntary sector, should be given full authority and dedicated resources, as the body corporate, to carry through the strategic plan within a set timeframe, from planning through to implementation, reporting directly and regularly to the Minister. The Task Force should consult with children and young people who have experience of residential care about the future provision of services.
Public representatives should work constructively with local communities to heighten public awareness and understanding of the vulnerability of children in residential care and their special needs.
COMMISSIONER FOR CHILDREN
188. Several submissions argued strongly for the appointment of a Commissioner for Children in Northern Ireland. Indeed, some firmly believe that this would be the single most important initiative that would benefit children, particularly those in and leaving care. This seems especially apposite given the concerns about the level of funding of children's services, the increasing number of children affected by mental health problems, and the rights and safeguards that should be available under the Children Order.
189. It is thought that an independent Commissioner would provide children with a much needed profile, as well as being in a position to advise the Executive of its responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Colin Reid of Putting Children First said
"The independent nature of the post would help Government in its obligations under international conventions and assist with joined-up thinking on children. The post would assist the development of policy and services for children based on a rights approach."
There are Commissioners for Children in the majority of European countries and beyond, and proposals are being discussed for Commissioners in Wales and the Republic of Ireland. These ensure that children's issues are sufficiently profiled and that there is a political direction and steer for them.
190. In view of the wide remit envisaged for the post of Commissioner for Children, it is felt that its funding should be sourced on a cross-departmental basis.
191. The Committee would envisage the functions of a Commissioner for Children as including the following:
A Commissioner for Children should be appointed to act as a watchdog in promoting and protecting the interests of children in Northern Ireland.
192. The central theme running consistently throughout the evidence provided to the Committee was the deep concern at the general neglect within, and historical underfunding of, the residential sector for children and young people in Northern Ireland. Children's residential care was frequently referred to as a Cinderella Service - a damning indictment of a service that should be valued as providing security and stability for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in our society.
193. While the Children Order was an enlightened piece of legislation that placed the best interests of the child at the heart of services for children by imposing a raft of new duties on statutory authorities, its implementation has been severely emasculated by a lack of accompanying resources. Indeed, witnesses complained that not only was there underfunding, but they cited instances where resources had been further diverted out of children's services into other "priority" areas. This is clearly an unacceptable state of affairs that must cease immediately. There is a moral as well as legal obligation on statutory authorities to provide proper support and guidance to children in a safe environment.
194. Moreover, from a practical perspective, it is eminently sensible to try to be proactive in the entire continuum of children's services, as failure to invest in prevention only serves to store up a multitude of problems further down the line, resulting in much more expensive options. Witnesses repeatedly pointed up the importance of viewing the child care continuum of services in a holistic manner, as under-supply in one service has the capacity to influence adversely the operation of another. The point was made repeatedly of the crucial role that early preventive services can play in making a real difference to families and children. The recent announcement in the draft Programme for Government of an extension of the Sure Start scheme to help disadvantaged families with young children is to be welcomed. This type of family support service can ultimately help prevent children from entering the looked-after care system. Yet, many of these services provided by the voluntary and community sector operate with uncertain funding.
195. The 'Children Matter' report recognised the deepening crisis within the residential care sector, which itself formed part of a complex set of interrelationships within children's services. The report emphasised the importance of taking into account the level and nature of unmet specialist need, staff training and complements, fostering, educational needs, preventive measures, leaving care needs, and commissioning arrangements, when planning a model for future differentiated provision. All these factors remain equally relevant today.
196. The continued retraction of children's residential places means higher thresholds for admission, resulting in the inappropriate placement of children with varying needs and behavioural difficulties, and increased demands for secure care accommodation. Indeed, the pressures and tensions within the residential sector have been exacerbated by changes in the criminal justice legislation that have diverted juvenile offenders into this sector, as opposed to placing them in a custodial setting. Consequently, both staff and children in the homes suffer due to the problems created by, for example, overcrowding, placement instability, violence, absconding, alcohol and drug abuse, and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
197. There is general agreement that in order to tackle successfully the myriad of problems within children's residential care, sufficient dedicated resources will need to be applied to implement a strategic plan involving the statutory, voluntary and private sectors collaborating together as joint providers of the expanded, differentiated service. The model of residential provision outlined in 'Children Matter' represents a realistic way forward. It must be emphasised, though, that in order to facilitate choice, there will have to be surplus spaces available, with the consequential resource implications. A prerequisite will be to have the right support systems and staff in place.
198. In order to deal with each child's needs individually, there will need to be careful planning by a dedicated implementation team. The Committee remains concerned that in spite of the Minister's announcement of a Children Matter Task Force, missing from its make-up is vital representation from the voluntary sector in driving forward the implementation of the long overdue changes within the residential care system. The team, which must be inclusive, will need to work to clear, time-related objectives and outcomes that are measured at regular intervals, and report directly to the Minister on progress. Given the number of new homes envisaged (up to 20), it will be very important to liaise and consult with local communities in the planning process and to inform public thinking on the specialist needs of this vulnerable group of children and young people.
199. The Committee notes that the Children Matter Task Force "report by" date has passed without any details forthcoming but serves notice that it intends to revisit this matter at regular six-monthly intervals in order to monitor progress on the implementation of the Task Force's strategic plan.
200. The Committee looks forward to the implementation of the measures in the future Programme for Government directed towards helping children and young people at risk. It places particular emphasis on the imperative for cross-departmental collaboration - as well as close liaison with the voluntary and private sectors - in the strategic planning crucial in building the necessary specialised expanded model of provision for the children's residential sector. The Committee trusts that the recommendations in this Report will form an integral part of a co-ordinated, cross-departmental approach to effect significant improvements to the quality of life and outcomes for children in residential care in Northern Ireland.
TUESDAY, 14 NOVEMBER 2000
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
In Attendance: Mr G Martin (Committee Clerk)
Dr Hendron took the Chair at 2.23 pm.
Draft Report on the Inquiry into Residential and Secure Accommodation for Children in Northern Ireland
The Committee deliberated.
The Committee was satisfied with the draft structure, save that an Executive Summary be added.
Members will forward minor amendments to the Assistant Clerk and substantive changes to the Clerk for consideration at the additional Committee scheduled for 2.00 pm on Tuesday 21 November for further deliberation on the Report.
The Clerk will inform the Business Office of the Committee's aim to have the Report debated in the Assembly on 12 December.
WEDNESDAY, 15 NOVEMBER 2000
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
In Attendance: Mr G Martin (Committee Clerk)
Dr Hendron took the Chair at 2.03 pm.
Draft Report into Residential and Secure Accommodation for Children in Northern Ireland
The Committee continued its deliberations on the draft report. In view of the time pressures involved in finalising the Report for a provisional debate in the Assembly on 12 December, an additional meeting is scheduled for 2.00 pm on Tuesday 21 November.
TUESDAY, 21 NOVEMBER 2000
Present: Mr T Gallagher (Deputy Chairman)
Apologies: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
In Attendance: Mr G Martin (Committee Clerk)
Mr Gallagher took the Chair at 2.15 pm.
Draft Report on the Inquiry into Residential and Secure Accommodation for Children in Northern Ireland
The Committee deliberated.
The Committee would complete the scrutiny of the initial draft of the Report during the meeting and consider the second draft at its meeting on 22 November 2000. The Clerk will then arrange for printing of the agreed text.
The Clerk will prepare a paper on the cost of the recommendations for consideration at the meeting on 22 November 2000.
WEDNESDAY, 22 NOVEMBER 2000
Present: Mr T Gallagher (Deputy Chairman)
Apologies: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
In Attendance:Mr G Martin (Committee Clerk)
Mr Gallagher took the Chair at 2.05 pm.
Draft Report into Residential and Secure Accommodation for Children in Northern Ireland
The Committee deliberated.
Draft Report (Inquiry into Residential and Secure Accommodation for Children in Northern Ireland), proposed by the Deputy Chairman, brought up and read.
That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.
Paragraphs 1 to 200, as amended, read and agreed to.
That the Report be the First Report of the Committee to the Assembly.
That the Report should include written and oral evidence from the following witnesses:
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (oral evidence only)
The Young People's Centre
Child Care Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Branch of the British Association of Social Workers
Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
That the Report be printed.
BASW (NI) Northern Ireland Branch of the British Association of Social Workers
BDP Business Design Partnership
Children Order Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
Criminal Justice (Children) Order Criminal Justice (Children) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998
DE Department of Education
DHSS & PS Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
EHSSB Eastern Health & Social Services Board
HSS Health & Social Services
NHSSB Northern Health & Social Services Board
NIO Northern Ireland Office
NIPSA Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
NSPCC National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
PACE Police and Criminal Evidence Order
SHSSB Southern Health & Social Services Board
SSI Social Services Inspectorate
WHSSB Western Health & Social Services Board
The Young People's Centre
Dr Ewan McEwan
Wednesday 20 September 2000
Child Care Northern Ireland
Mr Frank McKeating
Mr Billy McMillan
Northern Ireland Branch of the British Association of Social Workers
Ms Helen Eagleson
Ms Liz Millen
Wednesday 4 October 2000
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
The Minister, Ms Bairbre de Brún
Mr Clive Gowdy
Dr Kevin McCoy
Mr Leslie Frew
Wednesday 11 October 2000
Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
Mr Brian Campfield
Mr John Gillespie
Miss Eileen Webster
Dr Ewan McEwan, the Young People's Centre
Child Care Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Branch of the British Association of Social Workers
Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
Armagh and Dungannon Health and Social Services Trust
Association of Directors of Social Services
Association of Family Solicitors for Children
Ballymoney Borough Council
Banbridge District Council
Belfast Central Mission
Belfast City Hospital Health and Social Services Trust
BMA Northern Ireland
Children's Law Centre
Craigavon Borough Council
Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust
Eastern Health and Social Services Board
Family Bar Association of the Bar of Northern Ireland
Firstkey, Northern Ireland
Foyle Health and Social Services Trust
Glenmona Resource Centre
Homefirst Community Trust
Mencap (Northern Ireland)
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust
North Eastern Education and Library Board
Northern Health and Social Services Board
Northern Health and Social Services Council
Northern Ireland Court Service
Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency (NIGALA)
Northern Ireland Office (Criminal Justice Directorate)
Northern Ireland Women's Aid Federation
Probation Board for Northern Ireland
Registration and Inspection Unit of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board
Registration and Inspection Unit of the Northern Health and Social Services Board
Simon Community Northern Ireland
Social Services Inspectorate
South and East Belfast Trust
South Eastern Education and Library Board
Southern Health and Social Services Board
The Department of Education
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
The Education Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly
The Royal College of General Practitioners
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
The Royal Hospitals Trust
Threshold: Richmond Fellowship (NI) Ltd
Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust
Western Education and Library Board
Western Health and Social Services Board
Western Health and Social Services Council
[The Committee also received seven letters specifically in relation to Brindley House, County Fermanagh, which is a private children's home.]
The written submissions listed above have not been printed. They may, however, be inspected by Members in the Assembly Library, and by the public in the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, by prior arrangement, during normal working hours. (Tele: (028) 9052 1786).
DHSS (1998) Children Matter: A review of residential child care services in Northern Ireland. DHSS Belfast
The Criminal Justice (Children) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. TSO Belfast
The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. TSO Belfast
DHSS (2000) Community Statistics 1 April 1999-31 March 2000. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency Belfast
Northern Health and Social Services Board Registration and Inspection Unit Report, 1999-2000
DHSS (1995) An Introduction to the Children Order 1995. DHSS Belfast
DHSS (2000) Children Order Report 1999. DHSS Belfast.
A First Class Service: A Training Strategy for 2000-2003, 2000. CCETSW Belfast
DHSS (1996) Children (Secure) Accommodation Regulations 1996. DHSS Belfast
UN (1989) Convention On The Rights of The Child 1989. United Nations
1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Council of Europe
DHSS (1996) Health and Wellbeing: Into the Next Millennium - Regional Strategy for Health and Social Wellbeing 1997-2002. DHSS Belfast
Eastern Health and Social Services Board Registration and Inspection Unit Report, 1998-99
Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989. NI 12 TSO Belfast
DHSS&PS (2000) Promoting Independence: A Review of leaving and after-care services, 2000. DHSS Belfast
Utting W B (1997) People Like Us, 1997 TSO (ISBN 0113221010)
DOH (1998) Quality Protects: Framework for Action, 1998. Department of Health, London
OFDFM (2000) Northern Ireland Executive Draft Programme for Government, October 2000. OFMDFM, Economic Policy Unit, Belfast
DHSS (1998) Fostering in Northern Ireland: Children and Their Carers, 1998. DHSS Belfast
The Human Rights Act 1998. Chapter 42, TSO 1998
The Northern Ireland Act 1998. Chapter 47, TSO 1998
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