Professor Ray Jones, who is leading Northern Ireland’s independent review into children’s social care, says his recommendations will need to be converted into action if they are to have an impact on the lives of those who are struggling
In February last year the independent review of Northern Ireland’s Children’s Social Care Services, commissioned by Robin Swann who was then the Minister of Health, started. I am the independent reviewer and my report will be completed and published in June 2023.
And a sensible starting point for the review is to recognise that it has been a tough time for many children and families in Northern Ireland, and for those who seek to help them when lives get difficult.
There is still the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic which curtailed children’s schooling, hit the incomes of lots of households, escalated further pressures on and delays within health and other services, including children’s social care, and with families of, for example, disabled children left without respite care.
It may be timely to recall how until quite recently we were all encouraged to clap our thanks and bang our saucepans in recognition of nurses and other health and public and private sector key workers who were at significant personal risk while they sought to look after us and to keep essential services running.
‘Clouds of dismay and anger are now shading out the rainbows which had been painted to thank NHS and other key workers’
They included teachers who were still in schools for the children of key workers who were at work, social workers who were visiting children and families when there were significant concerns, and foster carers and residential children’s homes workers caring for children and young people who could not stay within their families.
But memories seem to be remarkably short as these same workers are now seeing their real-term wages dramatically reduced and are taking action as their income – which was never that high – and the services they provide for us all deteriorate amid the financial crisis across the UK which, at least in part, has been politically created. Clouds of dismay and anger are now shading out the rainbows which had been painted to thank NHS and other key workers.
So maybe as we pass a picket line it might be timely to honk the horn or give a clap to show that there is at least some memory of the commitment given by those who now see no alternative to being on strike and who are concerned about the cuts and deterioration in the services they would want to provide – in hospitals, in schools, and across communities.
It is in this context that the review of children’s social care services is being undertaken and with the vacuum of no functioning political leadership in Northern Ireland, increasing poverty caused by the Cost of Living crisis, and public and community and voluntary services being cut.
And in addition to the UK-wide Cost of Living crisis and the absence of a political executive in Northern Ireland to mitigate the awful impact of increasingly pervasive and intense poverty, there is also for Northern Ireland the legacy of trauma from the Troubles, and in some communities and for some children and families today, the impact of current threat and fear which continues to generate trauma.
The review of children’s social care will be making recommendations to help tackle the problems and pressures within services for children and families and to assist the impressive dedicated and skilled workers I have been meeting who, whilst doing much exceptional work, are often hindered by too high workloads and not enough resources.
But recommendations will need to be converted into action if they are to have an impact. This will require an end to the current political impasse and a willingness to reverse the current direction of travel of more poverty, more children and families in difficulty, with less help being provided, and with those who seek to help given less recognition. Maybe it is time to bang those saucepans again.