As a core member of SBNI since 2012, Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland (SBNI) second Strategic Plan 2018-2022.
Children’s Services Co-operation Act
The SBNI Strategic Plan must be explicit and incorporate the legal
requirements for working in partnership under the Children’s Services Cooperation Act (Northern Ireland) which received Royal Assent and became
operative in 2015.
The Act was introduced to improve co-operation amongst Departments and a wide range of bodies including District Councils, Health Board, Health Trusts, Education Authority, PSNI and others as they deliver services aimed at improving the well-being of children and young people.
Within the Act the term ‘wellbeing’ is defined using 8 general parameters.The factors identified in the Act which contribute to the well-being of children and young people are:-
Physical and mental health
Enjoyment of play and leisure
Learning and achieving
Living in safety and stability
Economic and environmental well-being
Making a positive contribution to society
Respect of rights; and
Promotion of good relations.
The Act also outlines how the Children and Young Peoples Strategy should be monitored; requires the Programme for Government to take account of reports on the Strategy; and provides powers for statutory bodies to pool budgets to support services for children and young people. The SBNI strategic plan must take in to account the recommendations contained within the Review of the Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland undertaken in February 2016 by Professor Alexis Jay, OBE. Particularly recommendation 2 that “consideration should be given to rationalising the various regional bodies concerned with safeguarding, child well-being and
child protection, including the creation of a statutory Child Protection Partnership, with an Independent Chair. The wider safeguarding agenda could sit within the revised Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership.” We would like to see reference to the SBNI working towards the goal to sit within the Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership as a way of ensuring the best outcomes for all children and young people to be stated more explicitly in the Strategic Plan with a
context to closer cooperation and coordination in business which does not require the introduction of lengthy legislation.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
The term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is used to describe a wide range of stressful or traumatic experiences that children can be exposed to whilst growing up. ACEs range from experiences that directly harm a child (such as suffering physical, verbal or sexual abuse, and physical or emotional neglect) to those that affect the environment in which a child grows up (including parental separation, domestic violence, mental illness, alcohol abuse, drug use, poverty or incarceration).
In addition to the ACEs you have outlined, there are other types of childhood diversity, including growing up in poverty. There is a growing body of evidence highlighting the social detriments of social harm. There is a clear link between poverty and the incidence of child abuse and neglect, suggesting increasing ousehold income would be an effective strategy for reducing risk. A study conducted by Queens University1
found that children in the most deprived areas are more likely than those in the least deprived to become involved in the child protection system. Academics from Queen’s University and the universities of Coventry, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Stirling found ‘strong social
gradients’ in the rates of intervention across Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, with each step increase in neighbourhood deprivation bringing a significant rise in the proportion of children either ‘looked after’ in care or on a child protection plan.
The evidence demonstrates that a different approach to child welfare is required; one which recognises the impact of poverty and connects social practice with anti-poverty policies and community development initiatives to help alleviate family stress.
The outcomes of the study show we require more recognition of the link child poverty and child welfare interventions at both policy and practice levels. Moreover, figures released in January 2018 show that a third of children living in Northern Ireland are in poverty - these figures are likely to increase as the effects of welfare reforms hit families.
We would therefore recommend that poverty is included as a risk factor for expanding ACEs and it is explicitly outlined in SBNI Strategic Plan as an ACE, particularly in Northern Ireland. Physical Punishment In its Strategic Plan 2013-2017, the SBNI gave its support to the removal of the defence of Reasonable Chastisement and the total prohibition of physical punishment under UNCRC.
The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner’s Office undertook research in 2017 which evidenced marked support for a change in the law – 65% of adults definitely support / tend to support reform including an increase in parental support.
CiNI note that while positive parenting has played a part in this increase of parental support to 74% when parents have been given access to information, SBNI now needs to engage with the Department of Health to achieve full Equal Protection for children on a legislative basis.