Kids in care can't afford more cuts
Today the Human Rights Commission publishes research examining the rights of children in the care system. It reviews the provision and circumstances facing children and young people in care, and how human rights standards can offer protection.
The report is timely for two reasons. First, there are currently more looked-after children in Northern Ireland than at any time since the Children Order came into effect. Moreover, the numbers of child protection and children-in-need referrals are increasing. Second, the report will assist in the forthcoming examination of the UK's compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
The UNCRC includes principles of a child's right to be heard and taken seriously, alongside consideration of the best interests of the child in any decision-making.
When making decisions of the magnitude of what is the appropriate form of care for a child or young person who can no longer be raised within his or her family, these rights are pivotal.
The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children provide that frequent changes in care settings are detrimental to a child or young person's development. Yet the report highlights that almost half of looked-after children have had at least three moves.
The report is wide-ranging, encompassing early intervention to support for the family, though to appropriate care placements and secure care accommodation.
The recommendations are also broad in scope, and the Commission recognises that organisations will want to use the work and ensure that human rights are at the heart of any proposed reforms.
Shortly, we will host a roundtable for the key organisations in this area to look at how this work can be carried forward.
The financial climate is not promising. Nonetheless, the recent Westminster Public Accounts Committee's Children in Care Report noted that local authorities in England and Wales had protected spending on foster care and residential care.
This is recognition that securing the well-being of children is money well spent. We hope that Northern Ireland can follow the same spirit.
Les Allamby is the chief commissioner for Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission