50 organisations, and counting, are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to put children at the heart of the recovery process.
Their statement to the NI Executive is detailed below, followed by a full list of the 50+ signatories. The statement is published on Monday 3 August.
A Vision for Recovery in Northern Ireland
Overarching Principles and Actions
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread, affecting the lives of every child and young person in the country. Our organisations are calling upon the Northern Ireland Executive to set out a new vision of childhood to support children, young people and their families to recover fully from the impact of COVID-19. When we speak of recovery, we do not mean simply going back to how things were before, with rising child poverty and services at breaking point. We urgently need a clear and comprehensive delivery plan for the Children and Young People’s strategy, coordinating and valuing all the resources amongst statutory and VCSE bodies in Northern Ireland.
We need a united approach, across all the Departments that considers the needs of children, young people and their families - starting at conception to age 25. We, also as a sector, realise that this moment calls us towards better practices in communication and working collaboratively to ensure the best outcomes possible in the recovery phase. The voices of children, young people and families must be at the heart of the recovery process, and there must be renewed, long-sighted and sustainable investment in the services and workforce that they rely on.
Below we set out the key principles and action necessary to make this vision a reality:
- An integrated and holistic approach
There needs to be Inter-Departmental action plan to provide a common focus and direction for policies that deliver on behalf of children, young people and families; put children’s rights and the voice of children, young people and families, at its heart.
There needs to be space to develop an integrated response to recovery that includes community, health, education, social care and VCS services to co-produce policy plans with children, young people and families. Our government needs to create better feedback loops with the services and people experiencing the issues.
- Protect and Promote children’s rights and entitlements
Our Executive should use the realisation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as the basis for recovery, paying attention to children in vulnerable situations and young people whose rights are most at risk.
- Treat children, young people and their families as partners
Planning processes should be inclusive and diverse, conducted in partnership with children, young people and families; work with affected children, young people and families to fully understand their experiences and then make informed decisions. Meaningful participation in decision-making processes leads
to better outcomes and often leads to better trust and confidence in systems. It also helps cater for the diversity of experiences felt by different communities in lockdown and their sense of ownership over any proposals for recovery.
- Have an explicit focus on reducing inequalities
It is widely acknowledged that COVID-19 has disproportionally affected particular groups more than others, for example Black and Minority Ethnic Groups, and the digital divide has exposed many vulnerable children and young people to unacceptable levels of isolation from their normal support mechanisms; urgent action is required to reduce child poverty and inequality. Our Child Poverty Strategy 2016-2019 is now out of date and this lack of clear commitment to caring for some of the most vulnerable members of our society is not acceptable. Prioritising ending Child Poverty has never been a more important goal.
- Invest in children and young people’s futures through a comprehensive, long-term funding settlement
Acknowledgement that public services entered the pandemic already facing financial challenges and are now faced with addressing a backlog of pre-existing need in addition to the expected increase in demand; the Executive should provide a comprehensive, long-term funding that incentivises partnership working, free from silos. Better implementation and accountability concerning the Children’s Services Cooperation Act 2015 and an openness to new ways of working should be championed by political and organisational leaderships.
- Understand how needs have changed, respond accordingly & learn the lesson of the importance of pre-emptive policy frameworks for emotional health and wellbeing.
Northern Ireland should invest and develop a comprehensive evidence base of how the needs of children and families have changed over the course of the pandemic; and along with the Mental Health Action Plan prioritise an understanding of how children’s well-being and mental health has been affected, using the data to consider how services need to change. There is also an opportunity to move towards pre-emptive policies and approaches as a way of supporting wellbeing and resilience for when crises may occur. Early investment in children’s health and emotional wellbeing are proven to be effective ways of decreasing the demands on health and social services.
- Value and invest in the workforce
We advocate that taking active steps to promote the physical and mental health of the workforce during the recovery will be of significant importance towards reaching any goals; seek out their insights and act on what they say, ensure worker’s rights are protected and upheld; understand how the knowledge and the skills of the workforce needs to change to support the recovery, learn how they have adjusted to the challenges and recognise the depth and breadth of the workforce including volunteers and those whose decision affect children.
- Value strong relationships and take a person-centred approach to new models of service delivery
The pandemic has shifted how services have been delivered and we must recognise that for some, digital delivery has worked extremely well to mitigate and prevent negative impacts; however, this needs to be properly weighed with the importance of face to face meetings for building and maintaining relationships and decisions must be based on understanding what children, young people and families want as we move forward.
Find out more about the campaign on social media using the hashtags #ChildrenAtTheHeart
These principles for recovery have been drawn up by Action for Children & National Children's Bureau and are supported by the following children’s sector organisations based in Northern Ireland:
Action for Children
Active Communities Network
All About Us
British Association of Social Workers
Brain Injury Matters
Cancer Fund for Children
The Community Foundation Northern Ireland
Children in Need
Children's Law Centre
East Belfast Sure Start
Employers for Childcare
Enagh Youth Forum
Falls Women’s Centre
Forward South Partnership
Foyle Down Syndrome Trust
Home Start Antrim District
Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful
Links Counselling Service
National Children's Bureau
Niamh Louise Foundation
Northern Ireland Youth Forum
North Down Community Network'
Pure Mental NI
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
Save the Children
Youth Work Alliance