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Social work sector welcomes key recommendations from Northern Ireland Care Review

Organisations, social workers and politicians with an interest in social work have welcomed the major recommendations in Professor Ray Jones’s review of social care in Northern Ireland.

26/06/23

Social work sector welcomes key recommendations from Northern Ireland Care Review

Northern Ireland’s Care Review concluded last week, warning that a ‘major fix’ is required to tackle longstanding issues within services.

The review was prompted by concerns about longstanding issues within the services – such as high levels of staff vacancies and many children and families not getting the help they needed. Professor Ray Jones was appointed to undertake a review of children’s social care services across Northern Ireland, finding more than 4,000 children on waiting lists for assessments and help from children’s social care services – many waiting for over a year and with the longest wait being over two years.

The government response to the Review was tempered by the fact that there has been no functioning Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive in place since February 2022.

Peter May, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Health, said: “We fully accept that change is necessary if we are to meet the ever-increasing demand for children’s services in Northern Ireland and ensure that children and families get the help they need, when they need it.

“The other key recommendations from this review will require significant service changes, and in some cases cut across a number of government departments. Therefore, these are decisions that will need to be considered by a Minister and an Executive.

“In the meantime, my department will undertake a public consultation on the organisational and service changes recommended, and make the necessary preparations for an incoming Minister.”

The response follows government proposals already in place to end reliance on agency workers, which it says it believes will be successful.

The review was also welcomed by BASW Northern Ireland, with its Chair Orlaith McGibbon, urging the Department of Health to respond to the views of social workers and introduce additional family support workers, social work assistants, behavioural support workers and administrative support staff where they are needed.

“Social workers are highly qualified and extremely skilled professionals, but under current arrangements, they spend too much of their time on tasks which could be undertaken by non-social work colleagues. This is a poor use of social workers’ time and an inefficient way to allocate valuable resources.”

Professor Jones’s major recommendation is that a region-wide organisation be created to deliver children’s social care services and to create the platform to address the significant issues which need to be tackled. The ‘clear and firm’ recommendation for an arms-length body would include current Health and Social Care Trusts’ statutory children’s social care services along with other allied services and professions closely related to children’s social care.

Sean Holland, former Chief Social Worker in Northern Ireland, said that the review was the “most positively received” review launch he has seen in the past twenty years – with sector leaders being won over by Jones’s recommendations.

“Attending launch of this report yesterday was struck by number of very experienced leaders in social care who said Ray had changed their minds especially in relation to structural change. This point was made by Maura Dargan [Executive Director of Social Work, Northern Health and Social Care Trust] speaking on behalf of directors,” Sean wrote on Twitter.

Many charities working in the sector also welcomed the recommendation of a single independent agency with responsibility and spending powers for children’s services. Action for Children NI urged, however, that the voluntary sector should be involved in the design process in recognition of their expertise and community-based services. They also expressed strong support for expanding Sure Start and Family Support Services recommended in the Review.

“Proper investment in these models that we know work, will pay dividends in the long-term across a wide range of desired outcomes,” the charity said on Twitter.

Avery Bowser, Director of Service Development at Action for Children NI and a social worker himself, added that the charity was “ready to play our part in implementing this Review.”

“Prof Jones was all about actions as he reviewed and we need to keep on with that approach - as was said at the launch 'no paralysis by analysis'. Depts and commissioners need to act urgently on voluntary sector funding.”

Barnardo’s NI similarly welcomed the launch saying that, while the problems facing Children’s Social Care in Northern Ireland are big, “this is solvable”.

Michele Janes, Head of Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, said: “We need to see real political leadership to deliver on the Review’s recommendations, urgent investment, and collaboration with the community and voluntary sector to ensure that recommendations for change become a reality. Barnardo’s NI will continue to work closely with others across the community and voluntary sector to engage with the Department of Health and statutory bodies implementing the Review.”

“We want to see a reformed social care system that is fit for purpose. The children and families who need support from children’s social care deserve nothing less than the best.”

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