Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings: 
Mrs Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Martina Anderson 
Mr Tom Elliott 
Mrs Dolores Kelly 
Mr Ian McCrea 
Mr Barry McElduff 
Mr Francie Molloy 
Mr Stephen Moutray 
Mr Jim Shannon 
Mr Jimmy Spratt

Witnesses:
The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson) )
The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly) ) Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister 
Ms Caroline Evans )
Mr Gerry Mulligan )

The Deputy Chairperson (Mrs Long):

The next item of business is the safeguarding children policy statement. Members’ packs contain the Committee Clerk’s brief, which highlights some issues on which members may seek more information from the junior Ministers. The packs also contain a copy of the safeguarding children policy statement, which has been provided by the Department. I invite junior Minister Kelly to brief the Committee.

The junior Minister (Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister) (Mr G Kelly):

You cannot avoid both of us making speeches. [Laughter.]

We welcome the opportunity to discuss the safeguarding children statement and seek the Committee’s views in advance of it going to the Executive for consideration next month. Child protection and the safeguarding of children is a key priority for us all. The development of a safeguarding children statement provides an opportunity to link the work of the Executive and the NIO. It is especially relevant in light of the recent Baby P case, the tragic local cases of David and Samuel Briggs, the inquiries into the O’Neill family tragedy and the McElhill family tragedy.

Child abuse has a massive human and financial cost for our society. In improving our systems, processes and legislation, we will assist in preventing abuse in the first place, facilitate children and young people to come forward earlier to seek help and have in place a range of measures designed to assist victims and prosecute offenders. We consider that the concept of bringing together high-level actions to safeguard children in one document is helpful and timely. Although we have played a primarily co-ordinating role in the development of the statement, because of the cross-cutting nature of the issue and its direct link to the living in safety and with stability aspect of the 10-year strategy, the majority of the actions are for other Departments and agencies.

The statement pulls together the existing work of the Departments and the NIO, and that has identified gaps and opportunities for further developments in the field. The document contains statistical information on child abuse here. It examines in detail the measures being taken to protect all children and what is being done to protect vulnerable children and young people in a range of settings and responses whenever children have been abused.

Importantly, the document also includes input from a range of bodies that operate in this jurisdiction, but that are based outside it. That will assist in co-ordinating and setting out high-level actions on safeguarding for the first time. In doing so, it will establish for Ministers, policymakers and professionals a benchmark on safeguarding as we move to new structural arrangements, namely the formation of the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people and the creation by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) of a regional safeguarding board.

The statement incorporates a next-step section, which highlights some potential issues and areas for future work that Ministers may wish to consider. We intend to bring the policy statement to the Executive on 26 February. We would be grateful to receive the Committee’s comments as early as possible, so that your views may be made known to the Executive in advance of that date. In the meantime, we are happy to take questions from the Committee.

The Deputy Chairperson:

The document refers to new guidance that will have to be issued as a corollary. When do you anticipate that guidance being made available and to whom will it be circulated?

The junior Minister (Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister) (Mr Donaldson):

That is a matter for the Minister of Health, so we are not able to respond fully to that question. However, we would be happy to consult with the Department of Health on that matter if that would help.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Thank you; that would be great.

Mr Shannon:

The draft cross-departmental statement on the protection of children and young people is an intricate document. We all accept that it is vitally important that a safeguarding board for Northern Ireland be established, especially because of the new powers that it would have and the changes that it would make. What roles and responsibilities will the safeguarding board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) have?

Given that children are sometimes sexually exploited by their peers, rather than by adults — a fact that is mentioned in the statement — what consideration has been given to the SBNI’s role in dealing with children who sexually harm others? I ask that question because I am aware of such cases from my constituency work. Likewise, what consideration has been given to the SBNI’s role in dealing with children who have mental-health problems?

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

The SBNI’s roles and responsibilities will be specified in the legislation that is required to establish it, and that will be brought forward by the Health Minister. Unfortunately, at this stage, we do not have details of that legislation; however, we will seek for the Committee an indication of the likely timescale for bringing it forward, and we will take on board Mr Shannon’s points.

With regard to SBNI’s role in dealing with children who have mental-health problems, we jointly chair the interdepartmental, inter-ministerial subcommittee on mental health, which is considering key action points arising from the Bamford Report. One of those action points concerns vulnerable children and young people, so the ministerial subcommittee has established a subgroup to consider matters relevant to them, including for those with learning difficulties.

The matters mentioned by Jim come under the general heading of “vulnerability of children and young people”. Specifically, the subgroup will consider children’s vulnerability to sexual exploitation and their vulnerability as a result of mental-health problems. Similarly, it will attempt to agree actions to respond to concerns about the well-being of children and young people with mental-health problems, particularly with respect to safeguards for those who have been placed in care under the Mental Health ( Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and, indeed, their vulnerability to sexual exploitation while out in the community.

All those measures are progressing in the context of the work of the inter-ministerial group on mental health, which is exploring what the Bamford Report had to say about those matters. Earlier this week, I attended an inter-ministerial group meeting, and the action plan in response to the report is taking shape and is due to be published by March. We will take on board Jim’s points concerning the vulnerability of children and adults with mental-health problems.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Is your role in that group to specifically consider children and young people’s mental-health issues?

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

That is correct.

Ms Anderson:

In the South, as we know, child-protection measures are not as robust as they are in the North. As someone who lives in Derry, I am aware that people who pose a threat to children — from the North and even as far away as England, Scotland and Wales — perceive the Derry/Donegal corridor, as well as other border constituencies, as a back door to a less demanding jurisdiction. Therefore, greater all-Ireland co-operation is needed. Is that co-ordinated in the North/South Ministerial Council? Where are those issues raised and how are they actioned? In what way will all-Ireland child protection measures be developed? There is also a difference between vetting procedures here and in the South. How important is vetting in relation to the protection of children?

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

You are right; some legislation and powers are more advanced in the North than in the South. Those issues are addressed in several forums. We have discussed them with the Secretary of State, because policing and justice powers have not yet been transferred from the NIO. However, we maintain close contact on the matters that you have raised, and we are pushing for the laws to be aligned.

There are some difficulties that we are attempting to, and must, surmount, such as the South’s constitutional issues about data protection. The protection of children has been raised separately in the North/South Ministerial Council, where it is dealt with on an ongoing basis. It will also become a new stream in the British-Irish Council (BIC), and will be dealt with at its next meeting, which will take place soon in Cardiff.

Therefore, a comprehensive approach to child protection is being taken. We want to create systems that interact with each other very easily and that prevent the difficult problem — it happens in my constituency — of offenders disappearing, popping up in the South, then returning to a different part of the North. We will pursue that with gusto.

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

Our Administration has taken the lead on this issue in the British-Irish Council. At the BIC summit in Edinburgh last year, we put child protection on the agenda, and it has been adopted as a major piece of work to be developed by the UK Government, the Irish Government, each of the devolved Administrations and the Administrations of these islands.

We believe that that was important, because there must be a co-ordinated approach. As junior Minister Kelly said, we have talked to Minister of State, Paul Goggins — the NIO lead on child protection — about the need to ensure that agreements between Northern Ireland and the Republic are maintained after devolution. There is broad agreement that, rather than a gap, there must be a smooth follow-through on which we will seek to build.

Our counterparts in the Republic acknowledge that there is a need to tighten up procedures and to develop an approach that ensures that we do not provide a bolt-hole for potential sex offenders. The vulnerability is actually on the Republic’s side rather than Northern Ireland’s. We have made progress and agreements have been reached between the Northern Ireland Office and the Irish Government on how to deal with sex offenders. Although we are not yet at the point of having safeguards in place at a level that provides full reassurance, we acknowledge that a fair bit of work has been done.

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

It is one of the issues on which there is absolutely no resistance from anyone we talk to. There are some obstacles that we must overcome, but the issue of child protection extends further afield. The EU has opened up. We must engage — and have started doing so — with other EU countries to ensure that child protection becomes a Europe-wide issue. That will enable us to raise our concerns at European level.

Mr Elliott:

One of two issues that I want to raise — that of child carers — has already been spoken about by Mr McElduff during the previous briefing. It is very important to include something on that topic in proposals on how to safeguard children.

The second issue relates to looked-after children. The statement includes a target to:

“increase by 25% the number of care leavers aged 18-20 living with their former foster carers or supported family.”

That target is very important, and it is important to try to increase that percentage further for the simple reason that those children are hugely vulnerable. That is particularly true as they get closer to the age when they may have nowhere to go — it is almost like a time bomb ticking away. Some of those children may have nowhere to go once they reach the age of 18 unless there is some support in their family, whether that is the foster family or supported family.

There needs to be a huge development in that process, because that is where a lot of the failings are in the system at present. Those children are hugely concerned as they approach their teenage years, especially from the age of 12 right up to age 16; therefore, I would like to see that process tightened up a bit.

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

As I mentioned earlier, the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people has established a subgroup focusing on vulnerable young people in particular. We are all aware of the tragedies that have happened in Northern Ireland in recent times involving teenage suicides, and we are aware of the alarming rate of those suicides. There is no doubt that the teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time.

Safeguarding children is not just about preventing others from harming them; it is also about trying to help them to not harm themselves. That is a key issue and, through the ministerial subcommittee, we are considering ways that we can do more to tackle it. The Minister of Health is taking the lead in dealing with the issue. We appreciate also the input from many MLAs who are anxious to ensure that more is done to put in place the support mechanisms that are needed for vulnerable young people who it seems are, sadly, under a lot pressure and who may have tendencies toward self-harm and even suicide.

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

The ministerial subcommittee on children and young people is considering six key areas, one of which is provision for vulnerable young people. Another relates to safeguarding, including providing support for parents, families and carers. That area is being led by DHSSPS but the Department of Education, the NIO, the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), the Court Service, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) are also involved in that.

Mr Spratt:

I want to know how you are going to co-ordinate with the NIO and some of the justice agencies in relation to some of the matters that will be sorted out when policing and justice is eventually devolved. However, in the meantime — if I may use my own constituency as an example — I have concerns in relation to the recent Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) report on Hydebank Wood. Specifically, it is important to ensure that some of the recommendations in that report are properly co-ordinated and complied with.

I am also concerned that my constituency has, probably, some of the highest numbers of, for want of a better expression, sex offenders being rehabilitated in the community. We all recognise that that must be done; however, I am not convinced that all of those issues are taken into account when such matters as child protection are being considered. Given your responsibilities in relation to those issues, there is an almost compelling necessity for the NIO and those agencies that are not under our jurisdiction to co-ordinate on those issues when making any plans. What are your thoughts on how, exactly, you are going to make sure that that happens in the future?

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

Paul Goggins is a member of the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people, and NIO officials sit on the cross-departmental safeguarding subgroup, which I mentioned to Tom Elliott earlier. In addition to that, we met Paul Goggins before Christmas to discuss what we can do to improve the harmonisation of arrangements North and South on issues such as dealing with sex offenders. I have visited Hydebank, so I understand what you are saying about that, and I have also visited Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre . That is an issue of which we must be cognisant.

I spoke to the director of prisons and governors about that. If you have thoughts on the rehabilitation issue that you raised, would you mind passing them on to the subgroup? It would be helpful if the Committee could do that.

Mr Spratt:

As far as relocation and monitoring are concerned, there are issues with the Police Service and the monitoring agencies. I am not totally convinced that the relocation of some of those offenders into certain areas — for example, close to schools and so on — has been properly thought out and co-ordinated. More awareness is needed when dealing with such issues. I am not criticising the work that is being done, but more needs to be done. More reassurance must be given about the handling of those relocations, because it is a very live and worrying issue in my constituency.

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

To be frank, it is also a very live issue in my constituency — I am thinking of clustering and hostels, and so on. We will talk again to Paul Goggins about that, which is part of his bailiwick.

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

The other development to report is that the Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland has been appointed as the PSNI children’s champion. Each Department in the devolved Administration has appointed a children’s champion, but, significantly, we now have the PSNI on board, too. Duncan McCausland will meet the other children’s champions in a group meeting, and those issues will be part of that discussion. That is a very important development.

Also post the devolution of policing and justice, whenever that may be, one of the key relationships will be with the new justice Minister, and a central focus will be on the work that we do with that Minister to deal with those kinds of issues. In fairness to Minister Paul Goggins, he has been very proactive on those issues, and we have developed a good working relationship with him in that respect. Obviously, in the fullness of time and with devolution, having a locally based Minister who is part of the Administration will bring that Minister more into the loop. The working arrangements will become more effective at that stage.

Mrs D Kelly:

That is an excellent argument for the powers being devolved sooner rather than later.

The report is very sobering, particularly when we consider the number of children affected. I want to pick up where Jimmy left off and mention looked-after children. A large number of them are not only failed by society once because of the care provisions or after-care provisions that they receive, but many go on to suffer from mental ill health or become involved in substance abuse, or end up as young offenders. Given the very damning report by the Criminal Justice Inspection into how young offenders are dealt with, have you any plans to liaise with Paul Goggins to start challenging those responsible? It is important to break the cycle of abuse as well.

The other matter that I cannot help but mention relates to chapter 2 of the report. Challenges arise in new and emerging communities where there is an increase in the immigrant population and the number of young people being born to eastern European families. One issue is their access to health and education. OFMDFM decided not to carry out a full equality impact assessment (EQIA) on that statement. Given recent comments, if people are getting jobs, should we not surely also consider their education and health needs?

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

As regards the EQIA, the statement pulls together all the existing initiatives to safeguard children and young people and merely outlines what is already there. It is not a new policy; rather, it effectively provides a baseline enabling the identification of gaps that may, in turn, influence future work in that area. Chapter 2 analyses what is known here about safeguarding children and young people in Northern Ireland. It was therefore felt that, in those circumstances, an EQIA was not applicable because it was not a new policy.

However, I accept Dolores Kelly’s point — there are new challenges for us. The community with which we are dealing is changing. We need to ensure that the groups that come to Northern Ireland to make their homes have access to help, because they feel marginalised in the new territory and, perhaps, they are unsure of how our systems work. That has to be considered, particularly in the cases in which children are involved. It is not only workers who are involved in these situations; very often, their families come here as well, or children are born to migrant workers here. We need to ensure that they have access to the normal help that is available through the local health trusts, such as primary care and child visitors, and so on. They need to be informed that those services are available.

We also need to understand the culture from which some of the groups come, because there can be different cultural approaches to the care of children that we need to consider in developing our policies at a local level. Mrs Kelly’s point is well made, and it is something that we need to be aware of in advancing the safeguarding policies.

Mrs D Kelly:

I receive complaints about children who are being used for begging purposes or to assist in selling the ‘Big Issue’. You referred to cultural issues, but there are also issues about trafficking and abuse. The wider community is crying out for those problems to be tackled. Nobody knows what they are supposed to do in such situations or what responsibilities they have in safeguarding vulnerable people, particularly children and women.

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

A good example occurred recently when the Minister of Education stepped in to sort out problems concerning the children of migrant people who had fallen through the net with regard to schools and school meals. There were not any regulations to sort out the problem, but it was sensible for the Minister to move on it. If Ministers across the board are made aware of such situations, they can take that approach. We can give a commitment to talk to Paul Goggins, but we talk to him regularly already.

Tom Elliott mentioned the young people who drop off the radar when they turn 18. That is an issue that has been introduced to the ministerial subcommittee, and we need to consider it.

Mr Molloy:

Jeffrey said that there was no need to undertake an equality impact assessment with regard to the implementation of the policy. However, in the event of a change of policy or a coming together of different policies, it is worthwhile to carry out an equality impact assessment. Perhaps, it is worth considering that again.

What role do you see for local government and the community and voluntary sectors in implementing the policy?

The junior Minister (Mr G Kelly):

The policy will be implemented at a high level by Departments, the NIO and the Court Service, and it will cover high actions. Those bodies will work with the agencies within their sphere of responsibility, and the voluntary and community sectors will deliver their respective actions. As we explained at the beginning of the meeting, the issues that are being dealt with now will be gathered and consolidated. Although the statement may not deal with it, the agencies are dealt with on an ongoing basis, be that at council level or another level.

The Deputy Chairperson:

I thank you and your officials for attending the meeting; it has been helpful and useful for the Committee.

The junior Minister (Mr Donaldson):

Thank you.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Members, now is a good time to comment on the Executive’s response to the child poverty report, if you wish to do so. There are a couple of suggestions before the Committee. First, we can seek further information from OFMDFM on the response to the report, if we wish.

Mr Elliott:

Eradicating severe child poverty by 2012 is a new target. However, that target has been set without any criteria; it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. I want to see the criteria developed further.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We can ask for a definition of severe child poverty, and ask what baseline figures are being used to establish current levels of severe child poverty. The target date for elimination has been set; however, it would be good to know what the baseline figures will be. For example, if it takes a year to establish those baseline figures, that brings us into 2010, which leaves only two years in which to eradicate severe child poverty — I do not think that that is a very likely prospect. It would be good to get more substance on that. Are there any other issues?

Mrs D Kelly:

I would like some clarity on that point; the Programme for Government sets out to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2010. Is that “severe child poverty”? By 2010, 20,000 children are to be lifted out of poverty. Is that the target that has now been moved to 2012?

The Deputy Chairperson:

I think that we need to seek clarification on whether this is the same target simply delayed by two years, or, whether this is an additional target which is being inserted into the Lifetime Opportunities strategy. That is another issue that we can put to the Department.

Ms Anderson:

I was quite impressed with the information that we received — not just through the inquiry — concerning the number of people that are involved in activities to address issues of poverty that affect children and young people. It can, however, be somewhat confusing, because so many people are involved, from the various Ministers to Paul Goggins. Is it possible to create some sort of organisational chart detailing the membership of the subcommittees, the subgroup and the children’s champions? Knowing who is located where, and what streams of work are being carried out, would assist us in directing our constituents towards a specific person with a particular responsibility.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Quite a number of groups were mentioned, including the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people, the ministerial subcommittee on poverty and social inclusion, the subgroup and the children’s champions in each of the Departments. Previously, we had listings on each of those, and, I think, it would be useful to get an update on that and on what each of the groups role and remit is. That would provide clarity for future discussions.

Ms Anderson:

The junior Ministers talked about membership of the forum; will we get an opportunity to consider who else should be involved in that forum? How do we make sure that those people working in hard to reach areas are members of the forum, as opposed to just the statutory bodies and the other, more obvious, organisations?

The Deputy Chairperson:

The junior Ministers indicated that they would come back to the Committee with the membership list; it is probably best to leave those questions until then.

Mrs D Kelly:

We need a timetable for that. Although there have been some very laudable actions and targets for change, how are those going to be achieved, when are they going to be measured, and what money is being set aside to achieve them?

The Deputy Chairperson:

Essentially, do you want to see a more detailed action plan to go along with those targets?

Mrs D Kelly:

I want to know if all those action plans will be part of a wider consultation process.

Mr Shannon:

In Jeffrey’s introduction, he mentioned the targets that Gordon Brown has set for the United Kingdom. We need to know how those targets will affect what we are trying to achieve here — I think that there will be a domino effect in our direction. I presume that, on the back of that, there will be methods whereby those targets can be achieved. We need to know what those methods are, because there will be cost implications. We have carried out an inquiry, we have produced recommendations, and now, we find out that the goalposts may have been moved.

The Deputy Chairperson:

I think that the policy that was referred to legislates for those targets and actions on a UK-wide basis. Ultimately, that will have an affect on all the devolved Administrations, because they will be expected to meet those targets. Perhaps locally, we may need more robust targets. That is one of the issues addressed by the inquiry; however, it is something that we need to be updated on. They said that they will brief and consult with us on the policy, so we will hear from them again.

Do members have any other questions that they wish to raise with OFMDFM?

Mr Spratt:

On the strategy?

The Deputy Chairperson:

I am talking specifically about the response to the report on child poverty. We will come to the strategy afterwards.

Mr Molloy:

The word “champion” seems to have become something of a buzzword. There are champions for everything these days. I would like to know what criteria are used for appointing champions — a job description if you like. A tag has been attached to those people, but I would like to know whether their roles involve anything more than simply ticking a box. We need to receive an early report about the criteria.

The Deputy Chairperson:

When the children and young people’s all-party group sought the list of children’s champions, we asked about their grades, because if someone is to champion children in their Department, they need to be of a sufficiently high grade to be able to make decisions and to drive things forward. The Committee could also request that information when we receive the updated list. Members could also seek an update on how frequently the champions have been meeting, because the anticipation was that they would meet every quarter. They may not have been meeting every quarter, so it may be worth pursuing that to find out whether it is actually happening.

Mr Elliott:

Someone on the other side of the Chamber raised the point about high-quality, affordable childcare places. There is a need to ascertain who has overall responsibility and who has the resources for childcare places. The issue has been referred to the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people for another report. There needs to be a sense of urgency about this issue, and I would like it to be reflected as such.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Most of the Committee agree that the issue has been well rehearsed, but a decision is now required, particularly around school-age childcare and where the responsibilities lie. We want the group to make progress on the matter fairly quickly. We need to highlight the issue, because it was raised today, and it is worth pursuing again.

Ms Anderson:

Perhaps my comment is quite explicit, but I want some assurances. A subcommittee and a forum were talked about, and reference was made in the documentation that it would allow for the tracking and monitoring of set targets or actions. We need to know what kind of tracking system will be put in place.

We are eager to see the outcomes and to measure them, as it would tell us whether things are happening differently now. The outcomes would show whether people’s lives are being affected and whether the targets and actions that are being taken are really having an impact.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We can specifically ask what mechanisms are used for tracking and what baselines are being used to gauge success in terms of implementation. There can be a lot of activity, and a lot of money can be spent with very little outcome, so it is important that we ensure that there is an outcome. That is probably more important than the amounts of money that are spent and the amount of meetings that are held. That is a valid point, which should be raised.

If members are content, we will get clarification on those issues and further information from OFMDFM. Are members content to publish the response from OFMDFM on the Committee’s web page?

Members indicated assent.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Would it be helpful for us to schedule a follow-up meeting with the junior Ministers in six months to allow us to get an update?

Members indicated assent.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Are members content that we should write to other Committees to advise them of the response to the Committee’s recommendations and encourage them to follow up with their own on the progress that is being made with regard to implementation?

Members indicated assent.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Does anyone have any comments on the safeguarding policy statement?

Mr Spratt:

Junior Minister Kelly asked me whether I had any suggestions to make. It is a very serious problem in my constituency, and I am not convinced that things are not being done in silos. I am not sure how the matter is being co-ordinated, particularly with regard to children and young people. I have no doubt that that has been included and mentioned in, for instance, the report on Hydebank, but what monitoring has taken place to ensure that the recommendations have been carried through?

A whole rake of bodies, including the Police Service and the Housing Executive, are involved in the protection of young people and vulnerable young adults when considering the issue of the rehabilitation of, for example, sex offenders. That is now the responsibility of OFMDFM, and, when the devolution of policing and justice eventually happens, it will be easier for it to carry that out. There are still cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed. I am not sure how that issue is currently dealt with. Perhaps the Research and Library Service can give us an idea about that. When I asked my question about how the issue will be co-ordinated, I was told that Paul Goggins would be on the ministerial subcommittee. I am not convinced by that. The buck stops with OFMDFM, does it not?

The Deputy Chairperson:

That is only the case in relation to children and young people; the buck stops with the NIO in relation to criminal justice issues such as Hydebank and the management of offenders. It might be useful to get a piece of research to clarify those lines and, perhaps, write to OFMDFM to find out what representations it has made to the NIO — particularly to Paul Goggins as the Minister with responsibility for justice — regarding the issues of young offenders and sex offenders. The Committee has raised concerns over those two issues and the issue of rehabilitation of offenders.

Mr Spratt:

I am happy with that; we should follow that up. I was looking for reassurance, rather than wanting to make suggestions. I want to be reassured that something is not being missed.

Mrs D Kelly:

Members may recall earlier research that considered the Scottish model, which places the responsibility for young people with the criminal justice system in the Health Service and not in the criminal justice system per se. It would do no harm to revisit that research to tease out how that model works and whether the outcomes are any better than other models.

The Deputy Chairperson;

I know that there are issues with the interplays between the devolved Administration and the NIO, because an ongoing debate has been taking place on the issue of healthcare for prisoners. The debate is not unique to the issues of dealing with young people.

Mr Spratt:

I understand that, but I am not totally clear.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Would it be helpful to seek clarification on the specific representations that OFMDFM has made within its remit and which cross-cut with the NIO?

Mr Spratt:

I am happy with that.

Ms Anderson:

That may provide information about what is happening and about the kind of exchange that is taking place. The Committee could not formulate an opinion on what would be helpful on the issue of rehabilitation and make a recommendation today, and I do not know whether our programme would allow time to bring someone in for an informed discussion, or to provide more research, that would inform our thinking.

Consideration must be given to the issue of where people are held while they receive rehabilitation, because that place may not be adequate to assist with the kind of rehabilitation that is required and people may come out of that system on to the street having not been challenged to change as an individual. We should take up that offer of clarification to have a more informed position than we are currently in. As much as collating the information about the engagement that is taking place at ministerial level or between OFMDFM and the other agencies, it would also be helpful for the Committee to be better informed.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We could pursue the question about engagement and also a research paper to try to cover the rehabilitation issues. Dolores also referred to the previous paper about the pros and cons of how young people are handled in the criminal justice system.

We must bear in mind that the closing date for submissions is 26 February 2009. We need to move fairly quickly, but we can at least make a start if we agree that today. Do members have any comments regarding the safeguarding children statement?

Mr Elliott:

There was very little reference to young carers in the document. Perhaps we could ask for the policy to include more reference to them.

The Deputy Chairperson:

The junior Ministers indicated that they are willing to meet the young carers who we met last week. They also asked for copies of our papers on the matter. We will obviously consult with the carers to make sure that they are happy for us to pass that information on. Given the circumstances, however, I do not foresee there being any difficulties. I am sure that ministerial engagement would be welcome.

Ms Anderson:

Stop me if this is a completely different issue, but the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child made a number of recommendations that fit in with our work and that of all the other Committees. When that report was being commissioned, OFMDFM made a number of recommendations. I am not sure where that sits with our work in the context of the child poverty inquiry and what resulted from the inquiry into the protection of children and young people. Researchers could pick up on some of those threads and we could use those when we consider a how to progress.

The Deputy Chairperson:

That was considered when we undertook the child poverty inquiry as one of the research papers. It may be something that we need to consider again if we commission more research.

That concludes those items of business.

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