Belfast Telegraph

Children's strategy 'depends on restored Stormont Executive'

Derek Baker, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education
Derek Baker, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education

By John Breslin

A ten-year plan to improve the lives of Northern Ireland children will remain in limbo until the Executive is up and running and an education minister is in place.

The Children and Young People's Strategy, published by the Department of Education yesterday, follows on from a draft completed in December 2016 which was supposed to act as a framework for the Executive to craft a comprehensive plan.

This did not happen because of the collapse of the Executive. The newly published 2019-2029 plan will remain in place until a future Executive completes its own, the department said, adding that work on its provisions will move forward where possible.

"The work of all departments to improve the well-being of children and young people will continue to move forward where possible (work that does not require a ministerial decision) in the absence of an Executive," a department spokesperson said.

"Executive agreement on the strategy will be sought from the Executive when convened."

Government departments, agencies and children's services will work together with the aim of delivering better outcomes to make sure children and young people receive the best start in life, the department continued.

Derek Baker, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education, said: "The strategy lists eight outcomes we want to achieve for all children and young people.

"These cover almost all aspects of children's lives including their physical and mental health, play and leisure, learning and achieving, safety and stability, economic and environmental well-being, contribution to society, rights and equality."

The draft was followed by a three-month consultation period, the end of which coincided with the failure to revive the Executive following a snap election in early March 2017.

Issues identified as important both in the draft document and following consultation included early intervention, well-being and mental health, inclusion of children and young people with a disability and tackling bullying, the department said.

Support for children in rural areas and the rights of those experiencing discrimination based on their gender, race, sexual orientation or religious belief were also identified as important.

"Following on from the publication of this strategy, a delivery plan will be developed setting out the actions that departments will take to implement the strategy," Mr Baker added.

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