The Children’s Law Centre is an independent charitable organisation established in September 1997 which works towards a society where all children can participate, are valued, their rights respected and guaranteed without discrimination and every child can achieve their full potential.
We offer training and research on children’s rights, we make submissions on law, policy and practice affecting children and young people and we run an advice/information/representation service.
We have a dedicated free phone advice line for children and young people called CHALKY and a youth advisory group called Youth @ clc. In relation to the Western Board area, the CHALKY helpline statistics from June 2000 – March 2005 show that there have been a total of 555 issues raised on behalf of children and young people.
The largest proportion of these have been 312 general issues (56.2%), followed by 157 education issues (28.3%), 68 family law issues (12.3%), 10 issues around being looked after (1.8%) with a small number of human rights and youth justice issues raised.
Our organisation is founded on the principles enshrined in The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular:
• Children shall not be discriminated against and shall have equal access to protection.
• All decisions taken which affect children’s lives should be taken in the child’s best interests.
• Children have the right to have their voices heard in all matters concerning them. From its perspective as an organisation, which works with and on behalf of children, both directly and indirectly, the Children's Law Centre is grateful for the opportunity to make this submission to the Western Area Children and Young People’s Committee and to offer further assistance in developing the Western Area Children’s Service Plan 2005-2008.
Model for Development The Children’s Law Centre welcomes the development of the Western Area Children’s Service Plan 2005-2008 (the Plan) and hopes to have a valuable and constructive input to the final version of the Plan.
We commend the Western Area’s Children and Young People’s Committee (the Committee) for adopting a multi-agency approach in formulating its Plan and feel that joined up working is to be strongly encouraged to ensure consistency of service provision and utilisation of the widest possible body of experience and knowledge.
We note that the Plan is based on the Vermont principles, the Government’s Green Paper setting out proposals for the re-organisation of services following the death of Victoria Climbe and has an element of a children’s rights basis.
We are concerned that the Plan is committing to very high-level outcomes which will be difficult to measure and are without specific timescales. We believe that it is vital that the Plan is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound), i.e. that it is structured in such a way as to enable its staged delivery over a given time period against measurable outcomes which allow for monitoring, accountability and regular evaluation.
While we welcome the inclusion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), we feel that the Plan should be formulated on the UNCRC as the model for its development.
The Convention is a set of non-negotiable and legally binding minimum standards and obligations in respect of all aspects of children’s lives which the Government has ratified.
It is important to note that the Government will again be reporting to the UNCRC Committee in 2007 and will have to address the issues raised and detail any progress made in relation to the UNCRC Committee’s concluding observations (2002).
It is vital that the Government, and as a representative of Government, the Western Health and Social Services Board, addresses all of the Committee’s previous recommendations and is seen to be making real progress in addressing the failings identified in the Committee’s 2002 report.
The UNCRC is the minimum standard that children are entitled to in terms of their rights.
Adequate weight needs to be attributed to the Convention to ensure the promotion and awareness raising of children’s rights and the mainstreaming and full implementation of the UNCRC.
The Plan states, as one of its ‘key result areas’, that it will be an objective of the Committee to,
“...promote the articles of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child thorugh an integrated planning process, to demonstrate that progress has been achieved with reference to the UNCRC throughout the timescale of the Plan.” (Page 26)
While we are pleased to note that the Committee intends to monitor the progress of the Plan in line with the UNCRC, we feel that the Plan should go further in its commitment to the UNCRC and ‘deliver’ on the articles of the UNCRC and that the UNCRC should not merely be referenced, but rather form the basis of all planning of services for children and young people.
The Children’s Law Centre recognises the opportunity that this draft Plan presents for all vulnerable children in the Western Board, but in particular, for those children who are excluded, marginalised and those most in need.
We see the UNCRC as the most fundamental, relevant and obvious model for the development of this Plan in order to ensure the delivery of the Plan’s aim and high level outcomes and its importance should be emphasised by being at the heart of the Plan to secure the meaningful realisation of the rights of children and young people in the Western Board.
Consultation We are pleased to note the Committee’s commitment to user-involvement and in particular, the emphasis on the participation of children and young people.
The work with the Young People’s Steering Group is excellent to note and we are encouraged to learn that funding has been obtained to develop a major project in youth participation and planning, enabling the Sub-Committees to relate to a supported and co-ordinated, peer-led framework for young people.
It is vital that all of the Committees, in developing their Plans, are seen as carrying out, promoting and encouraging meaningful and direct consultation and participation with children and young people as per section 75.
This is particularly important in complying with Article 12 of the UNCRC, one of the principles of the Convention – Respect for the Views of the Child. In examining the Government’s compliance with Article 12, the UNCRC Committee recommended that the Government, “...take further steps to promote, facilitate and monitor systematic, meaningful and effective participation of all groups of children in society”.
While the formulation of and consultation with the Young People’s Steering Group is an excellent development, we stress the need to be as representative and inclusive as possible in order to hear the voices of all children and young people, including the most marginalised young people whom consultation processes generally do not reach, for example, children in the youth justice system, children being looked after, members of minority ethnic groups, such as Traveller children etc.
The Committee acknowledges that work with young children is still at an early stage and we encourage the Committee to continue this work in order and to properly resource it to ensure the participation of all children and young people and compliance with section 75 and Article 12 of the UNCRC.
There is an obvious need for inclusivity and meaningful participation, involving not only listening to children and young people, but also giving account and due weight to what they have to say in the formulation of the final document.
We would be grateful if the Committee would respond with details of how they have consulted directly with children and young people, including marginalised children and young people, and how extensively this process was carried out.
We would also be grateful if the Committee would respond with details of the system which they intend to use to analyse responses to this consultation process including the degree of weight which will be attributed to both individual and organisational responses.
This is a vital element to drawing conclusions from responses and progressing with identified areas for immediate action or otherwise. For this reason, we would appreciate information both on the system itself and on its operation for the purposes of analysis.
Chapter 2 - The Western Area Children’s Services Plan
Funding the Children’s Services Plan
It is disappointing to note the likely impact of the Department of Finance and Personnel’s draft budgetary proposals, which are likely to significantly restrict opportunities to mainstream inter-agency projects which are currently in the pilot phase, as well as restricting opportunities for new service development.
The UNCRC Committee has paid considerable attention to the identification and analysis of resources for children in budgets. It observes that without clarity regarding the amount of money being spent on children both directly and indirectly,
“...no state can tell whether it is fulfilling children’s economic, social and cultural rights” (General Comment 5 para 51)
The UNCRC Committee has repeatedly raised the issue of insufficient allocation of resources towards the implementation of children’s rights with a number of member states. In 2002 the UNCRC Committee recommended that the UK Government,
“...undertake an analysis of all sectoral and total budgets across the State party and in the devolved administrations in order to show the proportion spent on children, identify priorities and allocate resources to the “maximum extent of…available resources”. (CRC/C/15/Add.188 para 11)
To comply with the UNCRC Committee’s Guidelines on Periodic Reports the UK Government, in its report due to be submitted in 2007 will be obliged to provide information regarding:
• The proportion of the budget devoted to social expenditures for children, including health, welfare and education, at central, regional and local levels;
• Arrangements for budgetary analysis enabling the amount and proportion spent on children to be clearly identified. The steps taken to ensure that all competent national, regional and local authorities are guided by the best interests of the child in their budgetary decisions and evaluate the priority given to children in their policy making; and,
• The measures taken to ensure that children, particularly those belonging to the most disadvantaged groups are protected against the adverse effects of economic policies, including the reduction of budgetary allocation in the social sector. (CRC/C/58 para 20)
It is clear that the Committee having to, “...continue to look for access to divert funding,” is totally inadequate when compared with the UNCRC Committee’s requirements.
It is difficult to see how, in such a scenario, the principle of the best interests of the child (Article 3 UNCRC) can be a guiding consideration in any decisions regarding financial allocation.
The failure to allocate adequate funding for the delivery of the Plan runs counter to Government’s obligations, which is a particularly onerous one given the UK’s status as a G8 nation, to allocate resources to children to the maximum extent of available resources.
Neither can the particular administrative arrangements with regard to devolution, whereby the NI Executive receives a block grant from the UK Exchequer, be accepted as some form of externally imposed limitation on the amount of money available for implementing the Plan, as made clear by the UNCRC Committee,
“In any process of devolution, State Parties have to make sure that the devolved authorities do have the necessary financial, human and other resources effectively to discharge responsibilities for the implementation of the Convention”. (General Comment 5 para.41).
All departments, including the Department of Finance and Personnel, must be obliged to undertake a child impact assessment of any proposed financial allocation thus ensuring that the best interests of the child becomes a guiding factor in budgetary decision making. The Committee should make these arguments to the Government departments responsible and remind central Government of its obligation to deliver on the UNCRC and its responsibility to ensure that adequate resources are allocated to ensure this obligation is fulfilled.
Key Result Areas
As previously stated, we see the UNCRC as fundamental in the development of the Plan and believe that the, “Children’s Rights” key result area should be much stranger to attribute the correct degree of importance to the UNCRC and the UNCRC Committee’s concluding observations, delivering on the articles of the UNCRC, with the UNCRC forming the basis of the Plan.
We welcome the emphasis on demonstrating improvements in performance and the tracking of outcomes, particularly in relation to having an effective influence and demonstrating that changes have been made to relevant policy throughout the timescale of the plan as well as the expansion of the range of services available to children and young people through the development of the Integrated Family Support Strategy.
Under the area of, “User Participation”, we believe that the phrase, “direct consultation” should be used to clearly illustrate the value of and obligation to directly consult with children and young people.
We are also pleased to note the emphasis on early intervention and prevention as a key result area. Recognition of the importance of prevention in order to avoid the need for crisis intervention is most welcome and will ensure the addressing of cause rather than purely effect.
We do have some concern with the assertion that the Preventative Strategy is led by the voluntary sector and believe that the statutory sector has responsibility. (Page 29).
While the voluntary sector has a very important role in service provision, we do not feel that the prevention strategy is the responsibility of the voluntary sector, particularly in light of the Government’s failure to ring-fence funding for the Children’s Strategy in the draft budget and priorities and indications that the Children’s Fund is to be phased out.
Prevention is a vital element in the Plan and we feel that the onus to ensure the prevention strategy is successful should be on the relevant statutory bodies, rather than relying solely on already under resourced and vulnerable voluntary organisations.
Chapter 3 – Building on the Strength of Families
Intensive Support Strategy The dual approach assumed under Building on the Strength of Families is welcome in that resources can be targeted to intensive services and preventative services to ensure that the service is as comprehensive as possible.
The key areas identified by each Trust differ quiet greatly and while these may be justifiable in terms of the needs of each locality, further information would be useful to indicate the reasons for the variations between Trusts in planned key areas for development.
Preventative Strategy As previously stated, we have some concern about the assertion that the Western Area’s Preventative Strategy is led by the voluntary sector. There is clearly a need for partnership working with the voluntary sector, however, we believe that the responsibility for such a vital element of the Committee’s Plan falls very clearly with the relevant statutory bodies, especially given the lack of stability and vulnerability of funding in the voluntary sector.
Locality Consultation Exercise
The locality consultation results for each area within the Western Health Board is extremely useful. There is a widespread issue around the availability of baseline data and these statistics will allow progress to be made and measured.
It would be useful however, if the Committee would provide further information on how the summary recommendations priorities for each area were arrived at.
Without further information we cannot comment on the suitability of each recommendation for one area and not for another.
The locality profile also raises a number of questions about how some of the geographical inequalities highlighted should be addressed.
One example of such inequality is the difference in the number of children with a disability in Fermanagh 3.32% of children in the
area and in Limavady 1.79% of children in the area
(32.4 and 17.1 per 1,000 respectively as at page 59).
It is vital that such inequalities are addressed and that children and young people do not suffer purely because of where they live.
While we welcome the summary recommendations priorities as a means of addressing some of the issues raised through the locality profiling exercise, we wish to know whether and how extensively children and young people themselves were directly consulted in formulating these summary recommendations priorities.
In light of the recent findings from the NICCY research 2004 and from our own experience, the CHALKY helpline and work with Youth@clc, these summary recommendations priorities appear to be adult orientated and there is little evidence of the participation of children and young people.
We stress the need for the facilitation of effective and meaningful participation with children and young people and the corresponding need to have their views taken into account in decisions which affect their lives.
The NICCY research highlights the importance of this area for children and young people and states that participation as,
“…enshrined in Article 12 of the CRC, is fundamental to the realisation of all children’ s rights and it is appropriate, therefore, that not being heard, not being allowed to participate in decisions made about them and not being consulted about changes to their lives, big and small, is the single most important issue to children in Northern Ireland.” (NICCY research 2004 page xxi) (Our emphasis)
One example of an area which has been found to be a priority for children and young people which does not transfer across to the summary and recommendations priorities is play and leisure.
The NICCY research highlights a number of key priority issues in the area of play, such as the need for appropriate, accessible play and leisure facilities, the quality and safety of leisure/play space and access to such facilities for children with disabilities and those in rural communities.
Play and leisure is one of the NICCY Draft Priorities and Youth@clc’s “Shout Out Soon” (SOS) Report (2004) also highlights this area as one for immediate action with the most common area of concern highlighted by children and young people in the survey being available amenities. 595 participants highlighted this (57%).
Chapter 4 – Children and Young People in Care
Statistical Data and Needs Profiling
The statistical data provided on looked after children is very useful and it is encouraging to note the level of localised baseline data which goes some way towards needs profiling.
It would also be useful however to have access to further information such as the number of care episodes per child, information from children and young people about their own experiences of the care system, comparisons between the percentage of looked after children with a disability and the total population, numbers of children placed within their own locality, numbers of siblings being looked after and the locality of placements etc.
It is worrying to note that the PSA target of children adopted is not being met by either Trust and that the reason both Trusts are having difficulty in meeting this target is due to, “...competing demands on current resources.” (Page 55)
As stated above, the lack of resources in a specific geographical location is not sufficient justification to deny children their fundamental rights, such as the UNCRC principles of non-discrimination (Article 2),
the best interests of the child (Article 3),
the right to adoption in the best interests of the child (Article 21; UNCRC)
and the right to private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998).
Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008 While we appreciate that the Plan is for a period of three years, we note that a number of the key result areas in relation to looked after children are rather vague and will be difficult to measure.
As with the majority of key results in the Plan, there are no timeframes set and the targets are not specific.
A number of the key result areas refer only to the identification of services, processes or policy issues; the identification of unmet need;
the assessment of whether residential provision is adequate;
the review of support services and the identification of priority services.
While these key areas are necessary to make further progress, we believe that the indicators of success in the provision of children’s services should be child centred and based on the principles of the UNCRC;
stating the effect this action will have on the lives of the children and young people with a focus on the measurement of progress.
There must be an emphasis on the difference that will be made to the lives of children and young people throughout the Plan, particularly, through the key result areas and this is not the case at present. In addition, the experiences of children and young people and their families must form part of the key result areas in order to ensure that the reality of experience is captured and the voices of children and young people are heard.
Chapter 5 – Disabled Children
Statistical Data and Need
As previously mentioned, it is alarming to note the large differences in the numbers of children with disabilities in each council area.
The most striking difference being 32.4 children with a disability per 1,000 in Fermanagh compared with 17.1 children per 1,000 in Limavady.
There is an onus on the Western Health and Social Services Board to carry out a detailed investigation into the reasons for this disparity by geographical area and undertake positive action to address these apparent inequalities.
Other statistics which have been provided include the numbers of children by type of disability and the numbers of pupils by special educational need statemented by the Western Education and Library Board.
These figures would be more useful if compared with figures from the rest of the Boards and also National or European rates of disability.
A recent study carried out by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), “An Overview of Speech and Language Therapy in Northern Ireland 2004 -2005,” highlighted further disparities in the provision of speech and language therapy services in the Western Board Area, with children in the Sperrin Lakeland Trust area waiting up to 20+ months and in Foyle Trust up to 18+ months from date of referral to first therapy appointment, compared to 4 weeks in South and East Belfast Trust’s community clinic. (Page 21)
The Western Health and Social Services Board also received the highest number of formal complaints of all the Boards about the provision or lack of speech and language therapy between 2002 and December 2004, with Sperrin Lakeland Trust receiving the most formal complaints of all the Trusts; 31 and 28 respectively. (Page 19)
These figures indicate a clear breach of the UNCRC principles of non-discrimination (Article 2)
and the best interests of the child (Article 3),
as well as a breach of Articles 23; the rights of disabled children and Article 24;
the child’s right to health and health services.
While one of the key result areas refers to the provision of equitable access to treatment and support for disabled children across the Western Board, there is very obviously a broader issue of equitable access to services across all the Boards.
The Western Board needs to address issues of inequality such as this and ensure that all is done to the, “maximum extent of…available resources,” (CRC/C/15/Add.188 para 11) to ensure that all children receive the best quality services irregardless of where they live.
Key Result areas 2005 – 2008
As with a number of the key result areas in the Plan, measurement will be difficult as the targets are vague and not time bound.
The key result area on a common assessment framework is to be welcomed as it refers to child centred case planning and agreed principles of multi-disciplinary working and assessment which is carried out consistently across agencies and sectors.
It would be useful to have further information about how this will be done and what monitoring mechanisms will be put in place to ensure consistency.
The key result area on young people’s participation is also very welcome in that the Sub-Committee will seek to measure the impact of the participation of young people on the conduct of its business and the outcomes of its work.
This is good practice in that participation includes taking into account the views of children and young people and illustrating how these views have effected change.
The short term support key result area is a good example of a one of the Plan’s more thorough objectives in that it aims to complete a position paper on the range of support services and then to commission these services based on the findings of the paper.
The key result area which deals with resources is disappointing in that it will have very little effect on the lives of any children and young people.
The objectives of the Plan should be child centred and show how they will make a difference to the lives of children and young people in the Western Board area.
This key result area refers to placing an onus on the Board to establish the current resource baseline for services for children with a disability, consider the redesign proposals and highlight the key deficits.
Given the importance of the availability of resources and the apparent impact resources have on the equitable and adequate provision of services, it is disappointing that further action is not planned to aim to address these issues.
Chapter 6 – Children with Emotional, Behavioural, Psychological or Psychiatric Difficulties
Statistical Data and Need
One very obvious crisis area which requires urgent action is the need for increased provision of mental health services for children and adolescents in Northern Ireland.
The UNCRC Committee recommended that the Government strengthen and make accessible mental health counselling services for adolescents and undertake studies on the cause and backgrounds of suicides. (CRC/C/15/Add.188 Para 44c)
The fact that many referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Teams have been waiting for over twelve months in Western Board is a testament to the need for progress in the provision of mental health services for children and adolescents.
Unfortunately, there have been no corresponding statistics provided from other Trusts with which to compare waiting lists, the number of referrals and the number of young people admitted to adult wards.
The NICCY research highlighted some very serious concerns in relation to children with mental health issues and stated that in Northern Ireland over 20% of children suffer significant mental health problems, comprising the commonest cause of severe disability in childhood.
The research states that child and adolescent mental health has been neglected and under-resourced by policy makers and legislators - children under 18 represent 25% of the NI population.
Only 5% of the mental health budget is spent CAMHS provision.
The research also highlights the number of children between the ages of 14 and 17 who are inappropriately placed in adult psychiatric wards and managed by staff with little or no training in pediatrics or child and adolescent mental health despite the fact that there are recognised psychological and physiological differences in treatment between children and adults.
There are also serious implications for child protection.
It would be very useful if a breakdown of the ages of children and young people who have been admitted to adult wards in the Western Board to establish the extent of this problem which needs to be urgently addressed.
It would also be useful to have access to additional disaggregated statistical data which would illustrate issues such as the extent of mental health issues for looked after children etc.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
We welcome the strategic objective of the Subcommittee for Children with Emotional, Behavioural, Psychiatric and Psychological Difficulties and particularly welcome the emphasis on prevention.
The NICCY research reported that at present, of all the children and young people referred with mental health problems, it is estimated that between 60 and 70% do not receive appropriate early intervention.
The research also states that children are most likely to benefit from early intervention and prevention provision as it is well established that mental health problems in children can be avoided through early intervention and prevention.
There is an urgent need for increased investment in mental health services for children and the Children’s Law Centre has recently acted in two judicial reviews in respect of the lack of Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for children and young people.
The NICCY research has highlighted a number of areas where investment is fundamental, for example, the development of multi-agency approaches to guarantee appropriate services to meet the physical and mental health needs of children and young people;
the development of child and adolescent centred health care services in which children and young people have the opportunity to fully participate in decisions about their health care and the urgent provision of fully resourced and appropriately staffed mental health services for looked after children, secure accommodation and custody throughout Northern Ireland.
It is vital that this investment takes place and that these areas are urgently addressed in a coordinated manner.
The key result area on the 16-19 year-old mental health service is very vague and it is unclear what will be achieved and what issues the service will aim to address or improve.
This is a vital part of this section of the Plan due to the inherent problems in mental health provision with young people in this age group.
This is corroborated by the NICCY research which states that obstacles to accurate assessment and diagnosis are compounded by those in the 16-18 age groups as they fall into the gap between child and adolescent health services which in some areas end at 16 years while adult services do not begin until the age of 18.
The key result area which refers to looked after children and mental health is welcome due to the fact that looked after children have significantly higher rates of physical, emotional and developmental illness when compared to the child population in general.
The shocking figure that approximately two thirds of children and young people in state care suffer from mental illness highlights the need for urgent action to be taken in the provision of mental health services to this particularly vulnerable group of children and young people. (NICCY research) Chapter 7 - Children in Need of Protection
Statistical Data and Need
It is very encouraging to see a 15.3% decrease in the number of children on the child protection register of the Western Board since March 2002.
The establishment of a needs profiling database for children and young people who are the subject of Child Protection Case Conferences in the Western Board is also a positive development.
It is useful to have access to the aggregated needs of children and young people who are the subject of child protection proceedings, as measured by different agencies.
It would also be useful to know if similar, comparable information is being collated by the other Boards and how the Western Board’s figures comply and/or differ.
It is useful to note that the Western Board is making an effort to bring about consistency in assessing and prioritising new referrals by introducing a new approach, based on models used in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
We assume that work has been carried out into taking into account of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland in developing and implementing this new approach and if so, this should be explicitly stated. If work has not been carried out into making the approach Northern Ireland specific, it is essential that this is carried out.
We also welcome the fact that work is underway to profile the needs of children and families who do not meet the criteria for referral to Trust Child Care Teams, who would be deemed by Social Services to be, “low need” and commend the Board for the work done to date on updating the Area Child Protection Committee’s Child Protection Policies and Procedures.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
We welcome the strategic objective of the Western Area Child Protection Committee and are supportive of the emphasis on co-ordination, prevention, positive impact and beneficial effect.
While many of the key result areas in this section are also quite vague, there is an encouraging emphasis on monitoring, which is welcome as there appears to be a general lack of remedial action planning should remedial action need to be taken at any stage within the Plan’s timeframe.
We must reiterate the need to be as representative and innovative as possible in carrying out the key result area on communication with children and young families.
This must apply to all children and young people to ensure everyone can have their say, as per Article 12 of the UNCRC and section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and removal of the obstacles to meaningful participation is vital for marginalized children, such as those in the youth justice system, minority ethnic children, looked after children, children with disabilities, including those with mental health needs, child carers and those from rural communities.
There is an extremely serious issue in terms of the capacity of social services to deal effectively and urgently with child protection referrals.
Effective and immediate response to referrals must surely be the priority, both in terms of the provision of quality services, but vitally, in the best interests of the child.
Building capacity is fundamental and much greater emphasis should be placed on this aspect of service provision.
It is essential under the key result area, public communication strategy that this is aimed at children and young people and not just at adults with a view to keeping children safe.
Children should be made aware via the public communication strategy of their rights and the right to be free from abuse.
Children should be made aware of what abuse is, how to stay safe and what to do if they have been in an abusive situation.
Documentation and training materials should be developed in direct consultation with children and young people and made widely available to raise awareness and to protect children and ensure that all children and young people are more likely to be safe from abuse through their own knowledge and awareness.
Similar to this is the key result area of communication. It is clear that there is an emphasis on a consistent, multi-agency approach, which is encouraging.
However, what is notably absent from this section is communication with children and young people themselves.
While this may be implicit, we feel that it is important to include direct communication and consultation with children explicitly under this section.
We also feel that it is vital that the Western Board consider highlighting their support for the Children are Unbeatable (CAU) campaign – the campaign to end physical punishment of children.
Physical punishment is the most blatant cross-cutting form of discrimination that all children and young people face and is in fact legalised child abuse.
We wish to see the defence of reasonable chastisement removed and physical punishment outlawed as recommended by the UNCRC Committee at paragraph 38a of the UNCRC Committee’s concluding observations and feel that the Western Board’s support of the CAU campaign would send a clear message to children and young people that they should have the same protection from assault as adults.
Chapter 8 – Youth Justice
Statistical Data and Need
We welcome the assertion from the outset that the need for services, particularly in the area of diversion from offending, may be considerably understated in official statistics as the figures used in this section reflect trends only in so far as referrals have been made to the PSNI. While the statistics contained in this section are useful, more detailed comparisons with other Boards would be useful, rather than purely comparisons within the Western Board area.
The is a clear lack of disaggregated data in relation to youth justice and The UNCRC Committee’s General Comment No 5 stresses that,
“...sufficient and reliable data collection on children, disaggregated to enable identification of discrimination and/or disparities in the realisation of rights” is essential. (CRC/GC/2003/5 para. 48)
We recommend that the Western Board supports the need to collate disaggregated data and supports the UNCRC Committee recommendation that the UK establish a nationwide system whereby disaggregated data are collected on all persons under 18 years of age for all areas covered by the UNCRC and that these data be used to assess policies and progress to implement the UNCRC. (CRC/C/Add.188. para 49)
Under the section on significant developments, there is reference made to anti-social behaviour in relation to Community Safety.
We are whole-heartedly opposed to anti-social behaviour orders (ASBO’s) and feel that this is a relevant and increasingly an area for urgent action as they will effectively fast-track children into the criminal justice system.
The operation of ASBO’s, including the likelihood of both ‘naming and shaming’ and media coverage pose serious threats both to the privacy of a child in conflict with the law and also to the child’s safety.
The lack of due process in relation to ASBO’s is of serious concern, particularly in light of some of the obvious failures of the criminal justice system.
The cost of ASBO’s and their failure to operate effectively in England should be a lesson to Northern Ireland and we strongly advocate the reallocation of resources ear-marked for the implementation of ASBO’s to seeking new and innovative methods of tackling the problems faced in communities.
Reference has been made in this section to rights and equality as two of the significant developments within the field of youth justice. Specific reference has been made to the UNCRC, the Human Rights Act and section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act.
We welcome the inclusion of these significant pieces of equality legislation and believe that they warrant much greater attention than has previously been the case, particularly in relation to education, health, support for children in conflict with the law, participation and raising the age of criminal responsibility as per the UNCRC Committee’s concluding observations.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
The strategic objective in terms of youth justice is very encouraging as there is an emphasis on prevention, coherence, rehabilitation and promoting social inclusion.
One of the key result areas in this section deals with the issue of service provision and states that all services supported by the Sub-Committee have demonstrated a number of factors.
We wish to see the inclusion of input via direct consultation with children and young people in developing service provision included under this key result area to emphasise the importance of direct consultation with and the participation of children and young people who are the recipients of such services.
Similarly, under the key result area of young people’s participation, we wish to see explicit reference made to carrying out direct consultation.
The key result area of information and awareness of need should highlight the need for information and commit to the provision of such information aimed at children and young people in terms of their rights within the youth justice system.
This information should be centred on the UNCRC, the Human Rights Act and section 75 and be available in accessible formats specifically aimed at the most vulnerable children and young people in society.
A number of UNCRC Committee recommendations apply to youth justice and have not been specifically addressed in this section.
These include raising the age of criminal responsibility considerably (para 62a), that no child should be tried as an adult (para 62c) and that the privacy of all children in conflict with the law should be ensured and protected (para 62d).
The Committee also recommends that that children should be held separately from adults when detained (para 62e).
Recommendation 172 of the Criminal Justice Review Implementation Plan states that 17 year olds are to be held in Young Offenders Centres or Juvenile Justice Centres where conditions are met.
However, this refers only to vulnerable young people and all other 17 year olds will still be held in Young Offenders Centres with over 18s. Young women in need of secure accommodation will also continue to be held in Hybebank Young Offenders Centre.
Similarly, the Committee stated that the Government should review the status of 17 year olds on remand to give them special protection as a child under the age of 18 (para 62h).
Another relevant Committee recommendation is that children in detention should have equal statutory rights to education, health and child protection (para 62g).
The Criminal Justice Review Implementation Plan does not address the equal statutory right to health and the fact that young people in the youth justice system have no established legal entitlement to be taught within the Northern Ireland Curriculum.
While many of these issues are matters for progression through the Children’s Strategy and central Government, we wish to see these issues being addressed and progress being made towards complying with the Committee’s recommendations at all levels.
The Western Area Children and Young People’s Committee should support the UNCRC Committee’s recommendations and aim to further to these recommendations in relation to youth justice in this Plan and encourage Government to act upon custody care orders.
Chapter 9 – Homelessness – Children and Families
Statistical Data and Need
What is notable about the statistics provided in this section of the Plan is the worrying rise in the incidences of homelessness in the last five years.
This 35% increase across the WHSSB area is unacceptable and unfortunately, figures from other Boards or National figures have not been provided with which to compare to establish wider trends and relativity.
The statistics offer very little information in terms of the number of homeless children and young people presenting, nor is any information given on the underlying causes of homelessness.
These statistics would be extremely useful in formulating the means to address the causes of homelessness and approaching the problem holistically, rather than purely an issue of accommodation.
It is encouraging that reference is made to the PSI Working Group’s Consultation document on Homelessness which looks at homelessness as a much broader issue, than simply one of accommodation provision.
The NICCY research highlights the wider impact of homelessness on the whole child or young person and quotes Shelter stating,
“The impact of homelessness on children and young people goes way beyond the simple absence of appropriate housing: it affects their education, job prospects, social life, relationships and self esteem.
Being homeless or living in poor housing can adversely affect children and young people’ s mental health.
The negative effects of homelessness on children can have long term consequences for their lives as adults, placing an individual at risk for life” (NICCY research 2004 page 107)
The research details the knock on effects to health, education and welfare and illustrates the dangers of homelessness for children and young people.
In relation to homeless children, the UNCRC Committee urged the Government to better coordinate and reinforce its efforts to address the causes of youth homelessness and its consequences. (para 46b).
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
It is encouraging to note the emphasis on interagency partnership working, support services and the vulnerability of children and families as a result of homelessness in the strategic objective.
The key result areas are also useful in relation to the emphasis on inter-agency working and the importance of support services for homeless children and families.
We would also like to see a key result area which explicitly deals with researching the underlying causes of homelessness and developing methods to address these underlying causes in an effort to reduce the numbers of families and young people presenting as homeless and prevent the problems associated with homelessness occurring.
There is also a need for carrying out detailed profiling of young homeless people in an effort to begin to meaningfully address inequality in relation to the over representation of looked after children and young people.
Chapter 10 – Sixteen Plus
Statistical Data and Need
Again, while the statistical data provided provides a useful insight into the Western Board area, comparative statistics would be welcome to establish the extent of issues facing the sixteen plus age group and to determine relativity both on a Board and National level.
The information on care leavers and statistics provided illustrates the very urgent need for a multi-agency approach to addressing the problems faced by these very vulnerable young people.
It is clear from the information provided that the Government is failing in its duty to young care leavers and that there is a need for immediate action in terms of educational attainment, reducing and preventing homelessness, sex education, prevention of conflict with the law, mental health provision, social inclusion and preparation for employment.
Care leavers face a shocking level of disadvantage and the statistic that 53% of care leavers were assessed as not having their needs met compounds the need for urgent action to address the level of disadvantage and inequality.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
The emphasis on multi-agency working, promotion of the health and well-being of vulnerable 16-21 year olds and the development of services based on need is encouraging.
However, there is a very real need to address the root causes of many of the problems faced by these vulnerable young people, rather than simply addressing the effects.
As stated earlier, it has been proven that children are most likely to benefit from early intervention and prevention and there is clearly an immediate need for preventative work and the provision of support services to this very vulnerable group of children and young people.
Chapter 11 – The Western Area Childcare Plan
Statistical Data and Need The statistics provided are useful and offer an insight into the levels and locations of various childcare provisions in the Western Board area.
Again, comparative figures would be useful for other Board areas and nationally.
It is clear that a great deal of work has been carried out in relation to childcare in the Western Board area and much progress has been made, however, it would be very useful, under the heading of funding to establish the amount of money allocated to each child in the Western Board area and Northern Ireland generally, in comparison to the UK average.
In 2002, approximately £179 was spent on each child on family and child care services in Northern Ireland, compared with £245 in England.
There is very clearly a lower level of commitment to family and child care services for children in Northern Ireland with children in this jurisdiction suffering detriment in comparison to their UK counterparts as a result of an accident of geography.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
It is encouraging to note the evaluation and review which is currently ongoing in order to improve family and child care services for children in Northern Ireland.
We look forward to the findings of the review and the incorporation of the new objectives. While many of the key result areas are vague and are not time bound, there is an emphasis on demonstrating improvements, monitoring and evaluation. Further information on how such improvements in service provision and effectiveness will be demonstrated would be welcome in an effort to monitor progress.
Chapter 12 – Domestic Violence
Statistical Data and Need
The statistical information on domestic violence in the Western Board area is useful, but we believe it gravely underestimates both the level and effect of domestic violence on children and young people.
As the NICCY research indicates, at least 11,000 children in Northern Ireland live in environments where domestic violence occurs (Social Security Inspectorate 2003) and while statistics are very valuable, we acknowledge that they alone will not indicate actual levels of the impact of domestic violence on children and young people, particularly in relation to domestic violence which goes unreported.
The UNCRC Committee, in its recommendations urged the Government to develop a co-ordinated strategy for the reduction of violent child deaths and all forms of violence against children (para 40b)
and also to provide for the care, recovery and integration of victims of violence (para 40c).
These recommendations are very relevant in discussing both the level and impact of domestic violence and they must be addressed through further work into domestic violence, addressing both cause and effect in order to work towards prevention.
There is also a pressing need for the voice of the child to be heard through independent advocacy services.
Children have the right to have their voices heard in relation to matters in their family, such as living in or being subject to domestic violence.
Children should be entitled to separate legal representation in family cases in Family Proceedings Courts in certain circumstances.
The UNCRC Committee expressed its concerns about the incorporation of Article 12 with regard to this and stated,
“…the Committee is concerned that the obligations of article 12 have not been consistently incorporated in legislation... the Committee is concerned that the right of the child to independent representation in legal proceedings… is not systematically exercised.”
The NICCY research compounded this by stating,
“Little or no attention is paid to the views and wishes of children and young people in divorce or domestic violence proceedings and the lack of separate representation in these cases is a matter of very serious and widespread concern.”
The Western Board should impress on Government the need to commence Article 36 of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 which will enable regulations to be made, allowing for the separate representation of children in proceedings under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence legislation and in related contact proceedings under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
We welcome the commitment to carrying out a programme of early intervention work into domestic violence.
The provision of information, early support and training is also very welcome as is the establishment of the “Tackling Violence at Home” Strategy.
There is again a need for preventative work to take place in relation to domestic violence in order to examine the underlying causes and build up a picture of where children may be at most risk and how this risk is to be managed.
We would like to see a commitment to impressing upon Government the need for independent advocacy services for children and young people living in or subject to domestic violence.
Again, further and more specific information on how the targets set under the key result areas would be very useful as progress will be difficult to quantify.
Chapter 13 – Children and Young People in the Travelling Community
Need and Service Proposals
There is a surprising lack of information in relation to Travellers and no statistics have been given in order to establish the levels of disadvantage faced by the Travelling community in the Western Board area.
We note that an audit of the recommendations of recent reports has been carried out in relation to children and young people in the Travelling community, we feel that this does not go far enough to addressing the needs of Travellers and the huge disadvantages they face in their daily lives. It is very disappointing to note that there have been no statistics collated in relation to Travellers in respect of accommodation, educational attainment, employment, discrimination, health provision etc.
We strongly believe that Traveller children are members of one of the most marginalised groups in society and should have a much higher profile mainstreamed into the main body of the Plan, with additional information provided in relation to inequality and need rather than less. In respect of Travellers, there is a wealth of research which details the extreme level of social exclusion and marginalisation faced by the Travelling community.
The Plan makes no reference to Traveller accommodation regardless of the fact that Government has recently consulted on the Draft Unauthorised Encampments (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, which aims to afford statutory powers to the PSNI to remove and criminalise trespassers who have the intent of residing on land, together with their vehicles and other property, which will clearly have a disproportionate impact on Travellers.
In addition to this, there are serious concerns in relation to the development of authorised transit sites based on statements made by the DSD which seemed to highlight reservations in terms of the availability of finance to enable a comprehensive programme of accommodation within a defined timetable.
The UNCRC Committee stated that they were particularly concerned about the continued denial of rights to Irish Traveller children and highlighted the widespread discrimination against Irish Travellers in all aspects of their lives.
The Government was exhorted to draw up and implement a comprehensive plan of action, in consultation with Travellers and their children, to ensure that their rights are secured (para 52).
The Committee expressed particular concern that not all children were being protected from discrimination and highlighted the unequal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural, civil and political rights for Irish Travellers (para 22).
In terms of socio-economic rights, the inter-dependence and indivisibility of all rights is hugely apparent. Without basic rights, such as the right to accommodation and flowing from this, the rights to healthcare, social services and a healthy, sustainable environment, children’s rights to participate and have their best interests protected become meaningless.
How does a Government, which continues to fail in its responsibilities to Traveller children as detailed in the UN Committee’s comments, expect a child without access to the most basic amenities, living in fear of eviction and the criminalisation of his or her family to participate in his or her education?
There is clearly much work to be done to improve the plight of Travellers and we wish to see these issues mainstreamed into the Plan and information provided on Travellers, with key result areas as per the remainder of vulnerable groups detailed thoughout the Plan instead of further marginalising this already marginalised vulnerable group of people.
Chapter 14 – Children and Young People’s Health and Health Services
Statistical Data and Need
The statistics provided are useful and offer an insight into the health of children and young people and the various health service provisions within the Western Board area.
Again, comparative figures would be useful for other Board areas and nationally, particularly in light of the fact that the Western Board had the worst morbidity and mortality rates historically in Northern Ireland.
We wish to commend the Sub-Committee for the Integrated Health of Children and Young People for developing and implementing the Strategy for Children and Young People’s Health and Health Services in the Western Board area.
Strategic Objective and Key Result Areas 2005 – 2008
It is encouraging to note the emphasis on co-ordination, integration, accountability, transparency, equity and accessibility in this section of the Plan and also the emphasis on prevention and health promotion.
The targeting of social need is welcome, in particular, addressing issues which affect some of the most vulnerable groups of society such as domestic violence and family breakdown, Traveller and homeless children, children with a disability and ethnic minority families.
We note that youth justice and looked after children have not been included and while they may be implicit in this section, we believe that there is a great deal of merit in their explicit inclusion, bearing in mind the inequalities and the high levels of need faced in relation to healthcare by these very groups.
It is useful to reiterate at this stage the disparities already mentioned which need to be urgently addressed, in relation to the provision of child and adolescent mental health services and the unacceptable delays highlighted in speech and language therapy provision. (Pages 11 and 9 respectively).
Chapter 15 – Measuring Outcomes for Children and Young People
We wish to reiterate our earlier belief that the UNCRC should be central to the Western Area Children and Young People’s Committee’s Children’s Services Plan.
While we welcome the inclusion of the UNCRC in the development of the Plan, we feel that the Plan should be formulated on the UNCRC as the model for its development.
We feel that the Plan should go further in its commitment to the UNCRC and ‘deliver’ on the articles of the UNCRC and that the UNCRC should not merely be referenced, but rather form the basis of all planning of services for children and young people.
Conclusion The Children’s Law Centre is delighted to have the opportunity to comment on the Western Area Children and Young People’s Committee’s Children’s Services Plan.
We look forward to working with the Western Area Children and Young People’s Committee and hope that our comments have been constructive and useful.
We are more than happy to meet with representatives from the Western Area Children and Young People’s Committee to discuss anything in this response and wish to be kept informed of progress in the development of the Children’s Services Plan and look forward to the issues raised being addressed.