Steven Agnew’s Private Member’s Bill
Proposals for a Private Member’s Bill to introduce a statutory duty on Government department’s and agencies to collaborate in the planning, commissioning and delivery of services for 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:
Enjoying, learning and achieving
Living in safety and with stability
Experiencing economic and environmental well-being;
Contributing positively to community and society; and
Living in a society which respects their rights
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:
A duty on all departments to work towards the achievement of the following 6 high-level outcomes for all children:
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.
A duty on OFMDFM to collaborate with all other departments in the regular production of a strategy to achieve the 6 high-level outcomes for all children.
A duty on all other departments to collaborate with OFMDFM in the production of this strategy.
A duty on OFMDFM to monitor collaboration between Government departments in the development of all strategies which have a direct impact upon children.
A duty on OFMDFM to lay a regular report before the Assembly setting out progress on collaborative working between Government departments in achievement of the 6 high level outcomes for children.
A duty on all Government departments to collaborate with OFMDFM in the production of the report.
A duty on all departments to collaborate at the request of any other department which is producing a strategy which directly impacts upon children.
Part 2 – Planning, Commissioning and Delivery of Children’s Services
The following is proposed as part of this section of the bill:
A duty on DHSSPS to collaborate with all (relevant named) departments, authorities, agencies, public bodies, district councils and any such other persons as the department may direct in the regular production, publication, implementation and review of a children’s services plan.
A duty on all other departments, authorities, agencies, public bodies, district councils and any such other persons as the department may direct to collaborate in the production and implementation of the children’s services plan.
The plan (and its implementation) to be required to be designed to contribute to the achievement of the 6 high-level outcomes.
A duty on the DHSSPS to monitor and report to the Assembly on the collaboration between departments, authorities, agencies, public bodies, district councils and any other relevant persons in the planning, commissioning and delivery of children’s services and the extent to which the plan and its implementation are contributing to the achievement of the 6 high-level outcomes.
Part 3 – Pooling Budgets
An enabling power for departments to pool budgets, share staff and resources and jointly commission services.