New Strategy for care-experienced children and young people published on Care Day
Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir today launched a new joint strategy for care-experienced children and young people.
The ‘A Life Deserved: “Caring” for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland’ strategy aims to improve the well-being of children and young people, who are already in care, at risk of entering care and those children and young people who have recently left care.
The number of children and young people in care has grown steadily over the last decade and grew significantly during the pandemic. There are currently around 3,500 children and young people in care and approximately 500 children and young people left care last year.
The strategy makes more than 60 commitments aimed at delivering improvements in well-being for care-experienced children and young people.
Commitments include the development and implementation of an Emotional Health and Well-being in Education Framework, new legislation, additional specialist foster carers and introducing teams to support children in residential care and those who have been adopted from care.
Health Minister Robin Swann said:
“I am delighted that this strategy is being launched on Care Day which is a significant date in the Care Calendar. Care Day provides a nationwide platform for promoting positive images of care-experienced children and young people and the contribution they make to our society.
“Direct engagement with care-experienced children and young people is vital in helping us shape policy, practice and services which touch their lives. They were central to the development of the strategy and will continue to have a central role as we move forward with implementation. I would again thank each and every child and young person who has been involved in the production of this strategy.
“We need to work together to give each and every care-experienced child and young person the best possible start in life and opportunities throughout their lives – in short, to give each and every one of them the life they each deserve.”
Welcoming the launch of the strategy, Education Minister Peter Weir said:
“The timing of this new strategy is critical. It is necessary not only to address the increasing numbers of children in care but also greater complexity of need. The pandemic has added to the scale of challenge for some families, leading to higher than usual rates of family breakdown.
“A particular concern of mine as Education Minister is the education attainment gap between care-experienced children and young people and their peers. I want to see the gap close. That will be achieved in part by intervening earlier and that is what we are currently doing within schools.
“This strategy will support the delivery of the wider Children and Young People’s Strategy by ensuring that sufficient focus is placed on care-experienced children and young people.”
The rights-focused strategy was developed with care-experienced children and young people and has been informed by carers, those who work directly with them or on their behalf across the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, including a number of government departments. It will also be implemented across departments, agencies and sectors.
Children who are looked after are in the care of a Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust or provided with HSC accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours. The strategy pledges to support children and young people in care; those who are on the ‘edge’ of care, that is:
a. Living in families with intense needs and requiring intensive supports [on the edge of coming into care];
b. Returning home from a period in care [on the edge of a (short) period in care]; or
c. Leaving care to make the journey into adult life [on the edge of ageing out of care]; and those leaving care, that is young people who have left care and are still in need of some support.
For the purposes of the strategy, these children and young people are all referred to as care-experienced.
The 2016 OECD Public Governance Review highlighted the need for joint working between DoH and DE in a policy area where success depends on a coherent and integrated strategy, shared objectives and a co-ordinated approach.
DE and DoH agreed in November 2016 to develop a joint Looked after Children Strategy, and since then officials have been working on its development including extensive stakeholder engagement.
The eight well-being outcomes in the strategy are:
Children and young people are physically and mentally healthy
Children and young people enjoy play and leisure
Children and young people learn and achieve
Children and young people live in safety and with stability
Children and young people experience economic and environmental well-being
Children and young people make a positive contribution to society
Children and young people live in a society which respects their rights
Children and young people live in a society in which equality of opportunity and good relations are promoted.
This strategy will replace “Care Matters in Northern Ireland – A Bridge to a Better Future” which was endorsed by the Executive in 2009.
The strategy - A Life Deserved: “Caring” for Children and young people in Northern Ireland - can be accessed through the Department of Education and Department of Health websites at the following link:
Children and young people’s versions are also available.