Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Government facing reform challenge

Child protection services are being transferred to a newly formed Child and Family Support Agency

The former governor of Mountjoy Prison has warned that the Government's biggest challenge introducing new children's rights will be delivering reform.

John Lonergan said persuading the public to pass the referendum on November 10 will be the easy part.

But Mr Lonergan said that was just the beginning, adding: "The real task is to ask are we going to ensure the necessary resources are there so that the philosophy of the referendum is delivered for children and families?"

He said the Government must ensure it has the necessary resources to put the reforms into action.

As part of its programme for change for children, the Government will transfer child protection services from the Health Service Executive to a newly established Child and Family Support Agency.

Mr Lonergan said it was important the State becomes proactive as opposed to reactive and urged the Government to support prevention and early intervention programmes so that early problems are spotted and nipped in the bud.

"Our treatment of children has been appalling," he added, as he addressed a conference organised by children's organisation Archways.

"We have pointed the finger, blamed people and institutions, but what we have failed to do is realise that we as a society failed. All of us failed children."

Mr Lonergan, a board member of Archways, which promotes programmes for children with social, emotional or behavioural problems, said it was not acceptable that children be ignored, adding: "When I started working in the prison service, the belief was that all the baddies were on the inside and all the goodies were outside," he added.

"The reality was very different. Most of those in prison were more suited to the county home. Most had serious mental and behaviour difficulties which were simply not dealt with."

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