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Child protection framework for Northern Ireland

NSPCC factsheet

A brief look at the development and structure of the current child protection framework in Northern Ireland.

It looks at:


Background

Northern Ireland is a devolved nation of the United Kingdom which has been largely self-governing since the Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement (PDF) (1998)) and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and subsequent Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010.

Prior to this, Northern Ireland had been governed from Westminster after direct rule was imposed in 1972. This means that child care policy in Northern Ireland was strongly influenced by events in England as well as by local factors.

This has very much changed with local ministers taking responsibility for childcare policy and while there are still many similarities there are many differences in local priorities, structures, legislation and policy.

One of the developments for example following the Belfast Agreement has been the focus given to cross border safeguarding between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an issue that is now on the agenda of the North South Ministerial Council.

The UK Parliament retains the power to pass legislation for Northern Ireland in a few areas such as national security and foreign affairs. These areas are called excepted matters.


The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 remains the key child protection legislation in Northern Ireland. It brought together for the first time the law relating to the care, protection and upbringing of children in Northern Ireland. It was modelled on the Children Act 1989 and reflects many of the principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It strengthened the position of child care authorities by imposing the duty to investigate in situations where there are concerns about a child.

The main principles of the Children Order are:

  • the welfare of the child is paramount in court proceedings
  • where possible, children should remain with their families
  • interventions should be undertaken to protect children if they are in danger, but parents should be able to challenge the intervention in the courts
  • courts should avoid delay when dealing with children and only make an order if it is better than making no order at all
  • children should be kept informed about, and encouraged to participate in, decisions about their life
  • parents continue to have parental responsibility for their children even if they are no longer living with them, and should be kept informed about any decisions that are made about their child’s future
  • parents with children in need should receive support to raise their children themselves
  • this help should be provided as a service to the family and should be provided in partnership with parents, meet children’s individual needs, be culturally appropriate, open to complaints procedures and draw upon effective partnership between social services and other agencies.

Co-operating to Safeguard Children (2003)

The introduction of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 resulted in the issue of child protection guidance for Northern Ireland: Co-operating to safeguard children (PDF) (2003).

This guidance is broadly similar in status to the Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF) guidance in England, and sets out the role and expectations of professionals in relation to the protection of children from abuse and neglect across Northern Ireland.

The guidance aims to ensure that:

  • systems and processes are in place to ensure child protection services are targeted at those children who are most in need of protection from serious abuse
  • processes are in place for reviewing serious cases where a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse or neglect is believed to be a factor (known as Case Management Reviews in Northern Ireland)
  • families are not exposed to the stress of child protection investigations if provision of other services would be more appropriate for their needs
  • agencies target resources appropriately

Co-operating to safeguard children is supplemented by Area Child Protection Committees’ regional policy and procedures 2005 (PDF), guidance which covers child protection issues in more detail.

Both Co-operating to safeguard children and the regional child protection policy and procedures are due to be revised in 2013.


Reform Implementation Team

The publication of Co-operating to safeguard children (PDF) (2003) coincided with the publication of Lord Laming’s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié in England.

The Victoria Climbié inquiry (PDF) (2003) included the recommendation that agencies should conduct an audit of their child protection services against the key themes identified in the report. This led to such a review being undertaken in Northern Ireland in 2004, which revealed shortcomings in a number of areas and led in turn to an inspection of child protection arrangements and services in Northern Ireland.

The inspection report (Our children and young people: our shared responsibility: inspection of child protection services in Northern Ireland: overview report (PDF), DHSSPS, 2006) initially made 77 recommendations aiming to improve safeguarding arrangements, increase public awareness and confidence in this area, enhance professional practice, and inform policy development. Overall the three year process resulted in 792 additional local recommendations.

As a consequence, the Reform Implementation Team was established by the DHSSPS to take forward the implementation of the recommendations from the inspection on a multi-agency basis. It led to the establishment of Gateway Teams in of Northern Ireland’s five Health and Social Care Trusts

The Gateway Teams act as a single point of contact for children and family services and undertake initial assessments before passing the cases on to specialist teams or other services.

The Reform Implementation Team has developed regionally agreed policies, procedures and protocols and the UNOCINI assessment framework (see Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety: Reform Implementation Team - children's services).

Arising from the inspection was the move towards the development of a regional Child Protection Committee and the creation of a single statutory Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) undertook reviews of child protection services in Northern Ireland in May 2008, publishing a series of reviews and A review of child protection arrangements in Northern Ireland: overview report (PDF) in July 2011.

The overview report made recommendations at both local and regional levels to improve the quality and safety of child protection services in Northern Ireland. The review evaluated:

  • corporate leadership and accountability
  • the views of service users
  • quality of record keeping
  • quality assurance, managing performance of service and access to services
  • interagency communication at point of referral

Since this review, the Health and Social Care Board progressed a number of initiatives addressing child protection arrangements.

Following the Safeguarding Board Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) was established in September 2012 with a remit to develop policies and procedures for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.


The UNOCINI assessment framework

Understanding the Needs of Children in Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) is an assessment framework developed by health and personal social services in conjunction with colleagues from other agencies and organisations, such as education and the police.

It aims to support professionals in assessment and planning to better meet the needs of children and their families by providing a process by which their circumstances can be considered. It provides a format for a preliminary assessment that can be undertaken by any professional within any agency. This helps professionals make effective and safe decisions about how a child and their family’s needs can be addressed.

The UNOCINI framework is intended for use by all professionals working with children as a tool to help them identify children's needs at an early stage and prevent problems from escalating. It can be used to make referrals to children's social services, and ensures that agencies are provided with important information about the children being referred.

A UNOCINI Initial Assessment will be carried out after social services receive a referral. Where appropriate this will lead to a UNOCINI Pathway Assessment. The framework has three assessment areas, each of which are split into four domains:

  • the needs of the child or young person.
  • the capacity of their parents’ or carers’ to meet these needs.
  • wider family and environmental factors that impact on parental capacity and children’s needs.

Guidance about how and when to use UNOCINI can be found in Understanding the Needs Of Children In Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) guidance (PDF) (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2011).


Public Protection Arrangements in Northern Ireland (PPANI)

The Public Protection Arrangements (PPANI) were introduced in Northern Ireland in October 2008, following the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008. They replaced the regional Multi Agency Sex Offender Risks Assessment and Management (MASRAM) and extend the scope of public protection to include sexual and violent offenders.

Their aim is to increase the effectiveness of work done by the police, probation and others to manage risks posed by sexual and violent offenders when they are released into the community. It puts the legal requirement on agencies (including police, probation, health and social care, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the NSPCC) to cooperate and share information to better assess and manage risk.

The operational functions of PPANI are carried out by Local Area Public Protection Panels (LAPPP) meetings.

For more details see the PPANI website and the Guidance to agencies: public protection arrangements (PDF) (2008).


Children and young people: our pledge: a ten year strategy for children and young people in Northern Ireland

In 2006, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) published Our children and young people: our pledge: a ten year stategy for children and young people in Northern Ireland 2006-2016 (PDF) which seeks to achieve the following outcomes for all children and young people:

  • being healthy
  • enjoying, learning and achieving
  • living in safety and with stability
  • experience economic and environmental wellbeing
  • contributing positively to community and society
  • living in a society which respects their rights

This strategy identifies that not all children have an equal start in life and that targeted support should be available to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, with a focus on prevention and early intervention. It proposes a ‘whole child’ approach to ensure support in each of these areas.

The strategy was published following the safeguarding reviews undertaken in response to the Laming recommendations. The outcomes identified for children are similar to those in England, with the addition of rights - based objective.

Children Services Planning increasingly use the strategy as a framework for the planning and commissioning of regional services in Northern Ireland.


Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland (SBNI)

The Safeguarding Board Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 was passed in February 2011. It provided the legislative framework for the creation of a new regional Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) and the establishment of five Safeguarding Panels to support the SBNI’s work at a Health and Social Care Trust level.

The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) was launched in September 2012. It replaced the Regional Child Protection Committee (RCPC) (which took over from Area Child Protection Committees in 2009) taking responsibility for promoting inter-agency work to protect children and monitor and evaluate services

Safeguarding Panels (independently chaired committees of the SBNI) will replace existing Health and Social Care Trust Child Protection Panels and take responsibility for child protection practice at a local level.

After a consultation, the Department for Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) issued Guidance to the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) (PDF) in December 2012.


Sexual abuse and domestic abuse

The relevant strategies in Northern Ireland are:

Tackling sexual violence and abuse: a regional strategy 2008-2013 (PDF) (2008) is a cross departmental strategy involving the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and Department of Justice (DoJ). It sets out what Government intends to do to tackle the issues of sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland under four inter-related strands: Leadership and Direction, Prevention, Protection and Justice and Support.

Tackling violence at home: a strategy for addressing domestic violence and abuse in Northern Ireland (PDF) (2005) sets out the government strategy for tackling domestic violence and abuse in the key areas of prevention, protection and justice, and support.

The domestic violence strategy and sexual violence strategy are being amalgamated with the intention of issuing one new joint strategy after 2014. The first join action plan was published in 2012 Tackling domestic and sexual violence and abuse April 2012 - September 2013 (PDF).


References

Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

Children Act 1989

Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008

Northern Ireland Act 1998

Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010

Safeguarding Board Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

British and Irish Governments (1998) The agreement: agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations.

Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2003) Co-operating to safeguard children (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2003) Co-operating to safeguard children (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2005) Area Child Protection Committees’ regional policy and procedures 2005 (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2005) Tackling violence at home: a strategy for addressing domestic violence and abuse in Northern Ireland.
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2006) Our children and young people: our shared responsibility: inspection of child protection services in Northern Ireland: overview report (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2008) Tackling sexual violence and abuse: a regional strategy 2008-2013 (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2011) Understanding the Needs Of Children In Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) guidance (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2011) Tackling violence at home: action plan October 2010-March 2012.
Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2013) Guidance to Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2006).

Department of Justice (DoJ) and Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2012) Tackling domestic and sexual violence and abuse April 2012 - September 2013 (PDF).
Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

HM Government (2013) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF).
London: Department for Education (DfE).

Laming, L. (2003) The Victoria Climbié inquiry (PDF).
London: The Stationery Office (TSO).

Northern Ireland Office (2008) Guidance to agencies: public protection arrangements (PDF).
Belfast: Criminal Justice Directorate).

Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) (2006) Our children and young people: our pledge: a ten year strategy for children and young people in Northern Ireland 2006-2016 (PDF).
Belfast: Children and Young People’s Unit.

Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) (2011) A review of child protection arrangements in Northern Ireland: overview report (PDF).
Belfast: Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).

United Nations (1989) Convention on the rights of the child.
Geneva: Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.


Northern Ireland homepage
Child protection resources for anyone working to safeguard children in Northern Ireland

Child protection in all UK nations
Information and resources on child protection in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


Further reading

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) ([2007]) The Children Order: a guide (PDF). Belfast: Department of Heath Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Search the NSPCC Library Online for references on child protection in Northern Ireland


Further help and information

NSPCC training consultancy
Our child protection training courses in Northern Ireland.

NI Direct: protecting children and vulnerable adults
Information on reporting child abuse and neglect, disclosure and barring arrangements and regulated activity with vulnerable groups.


Contact the NSPCC’s information service for more information about child protection in Northern Ireland or any child protection topic