By Steven Agnew, MLA and leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland
On election as an MLA, I became acutely aware that there was wide criticism from within the children’s sector of the failure of government to deliver on outcomes outlined in the OFMDFM Ten Year Strategy for Children and Young People.
All children should receive the services they need to reach their full potential. We must ensure that their basic needs are met and their rights protected. To put it in context, Northern Ireland has some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, with 21 percent of children living in persistent child poverty, double the rate for Great Britain.
Poor outcomes for local children, despite a higher level of government spending per person compared to Great Britain, suggested that an opportunity existed to improve the current governance model of children’s services.
There currently exists a statutory duty to cooperate in England, Scotland and Wales. However, there is currently no requirement for departments or public bodies to co-operate with each other on the issue of children’s services in Northern Ireland.
That is why I am seeking to introduce the Children’s Bill, the objective of which is to create a statutory duty to co-operate across all government departments. The intention is to improve outcomes for children by supporting, enhancing and encouraging co-operation to ensure that children’s services are most integrated from the point of view of the recipient. I have worked closely with a wide range of organisations from the children’s sector and have received unanimous support in the Assembly.
We are now working on amendments to the Children’s Bill which will return to the Assembly in the autumn. I will be calling on all parties to reaffirm their commitment to this legislation and urge you to do the same. • Steven Agnew is an MLA for the Green Party