PROPOSALS FOR A PRIVATE MEMBER’S BILL THAT WOULD INTRODUCE A STATUTORY DUTY ON ALL (RELEVANT) GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS TO COLLABORATE IN THE PLANNING, COMMISSIONING AND DELIVERY OF SERVICES TO CHILDREN IN NORTHERN IRELAND.
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and we have a duty to ensure that their basic needs are met and their rights are protected
I have been a member of the All Party Group on Children and Young People (APG on C&YP) since November 2007 when I represented then Green Party MLA Brian Wilson. Now as an elected MLA I sit on the group in my own right.
Many issues have been discussed in the group including issues around child poverty, youth justice, child and adolescent mental health, play and leisure etc. The key strategy in dealing with all issues affecting children is the OFMDFM Ten Year Strategy for Children and Young People which has been widely commended for its ambition.
However there has also been wide criticism from within the children’s sector of the failure of government to deliver on these outcomes.
At the root of many of these criticisms has been the lack of collaboration between government departments to achieve these aims. While voluntary initiatives such as the Executive Sub Committee on Children and Young People and the departmental Children’s Champions have been welcomed by the sector, it is felt that these mechanisms have been insufficient in effecting the necessary radical change to how ministers and departments deliver on the six high level outcomes:
On a number of occasions the APG on C&YP has lobbied the two Junior Ministers, who have responsibility for children and young people, for a statutory duty to be place on government departments to work together to deliver the six high level outcomes. However there has been a failure of leadership and that is why I have felt it necessary to propose the statutory duty through a Private Members Bill.
The Bill, if passed, would require government departments to collaborate in the planning, commissioning and delivery of the services that are required to achieve the six high level outcomes.
The Bill would also include an enabling power which would allow departments to pool budgets to ensure the most effective use of their limited resources. When departments do not have a financial input there is no ownership. Also the spending of one department has the potential to impact on the goals of another.
For example research has shown that investment in early years (0-6) is the best way to tackle social disadvantage leading to improved health and educational outcomes.
Such targeted spending would also reduce the likelihood of involvement in criminal activity.
While it is clear that the Department of Justice would benefit from such investment (research shows that investing in early years acts as a preventative measure making significant savings in the long term) the Department is unlikely to have contact with children of that age.
What incentive is on the Department of Health and/or education, who would be in contact during the early years of a child’s life to invest money to produce benefits that will save the Department of Justice money?
Would they do it because it’s the right thing to do?
Limited budgets mean departments will inevitably focus on their own priorities. However if departments could pool budgets then there would be mutual benefit in the Department of Justice investing in services which can be better delivered by the department of health.
A duty to collaborate exists in some form in every other region of the UK.
Children in Northern Ireland are losing out due to our lack of a statutory duty.
The current way of doing things is inefficient and a voluntary approach has not produced the desired results.
Legislation is needed to change the culture of government departments that sees them operate in isolation.
My Bill is based on the Children’s Act 2004 and the subsequent reforms which introduced a statutory duty on local authorities and relevant partners in England & Wales to jointly plan and commission children’s services.
I will adapt this legislation for the Northern Ireland context.
I believe we must move beyond simply consulting with each other and start working together; for the benefit of children and families in Northern Ireland.
KEY LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS
The key objective of the bill is to introduce a statutory legal duty on the Executive to collaborate in the achievement of the 6 high level outcomes and for relevant Government departments and agencies to collaborate in the planning, commissioning and delivering children’s services.
Part 1 - Achievement of the 6 high-level outcomes
The following is proposed in this section of the bill:
1) Being healthy;
2) Enjoying, learning and achieving;
3) Living in safety and with stability;
4) Experiencing economic and environmental well-being;
5) Contributing positively to community and society; and
6) Living in a society which respects their rights.
Part 2 - Planning, Commissioning and Delivery of Children’s Services
The following is proposed as part of this section of the bill:
Part 3 – Pooling Budgets
To participate and share your views on Steven Agnew's Private Member's Bill click on the document below to download the consultation questionaire and return your answers by June 30, 2012