Currently there are around 3,000 children in care of Health and Social Care Trusts. The term ‘Looked After Children’ refers to a diverse group that varies in terms of age, ethnicity, the reason for being looked after, age of first entry into care and duration within care. However, whilst some young people in care go on to enjoy success, as a group, educational and other outcomes tend to fall significantly below those of the general population.
There are now more children in care than at any other time since the introduction of the Children Order in 1995. The number has been growing steadily year on year. Allied to the rise in numbers is the increasing complexity of need among children who come into care. Some children are engaging in behaviours associated with adolescence at a much younger age. We also have a growth in the number of young people entering care for the first time at an older age than previously. In addition some of the children entering care may have experienced trauma in their lives which has impacted on their mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together underscores the Programme for Government commitment to looked after children in which the former Health Minister stated that we will honour our corporate parenting responsibilities to the fullest extent and will be as ambitious for children in care as we are for our own children.
In addition the Children’s Services Co-operation Act (NI) 2015 requires government departments, relevant agencies and the voluntary and community sector to work together on the planning, resourcing and delivery of children’s services to improve the well-being of children and young people. Well-being is defined in terms of 8 outcomes/parameters. The draft Looked After Children Strategy is being brought forward in the context of the Executive’s draft Children and Young People Strategy and provides key messages and actions identified to address each of these 8 outcomes.
Section 7 of the draft Strategy includes a high level draft Implementation Plan which draws together actions from Programme for Government, Delivering Together, the Adoption and Children Bill consultation response, and a number of review exercises and project evaluations. Some actions will lead to improvements across more than one or all outcome areas.
The draft Strategy is being taken forward jointly by the Departments of Health and Education. The consultation draft has also been developed with significant input from key stakeholders across the statutory, voluntary and community sectors. Children, young people and carers have also been involved in its development. In order to produce a succinct but comprehensive document we have had to distil comments.
Please note: The definition of ‘corporate parent’ was subject to consultation under the Adoption & Children Bill and any agreed definition arising from this will be included in the finalised Strategy.
Some young people may be invited to workshops organised by voluntary organisations (VOYPIC, Fostering Network, MACs, Start360, Include Youth). If you are not invited to one of these but would like to come along to a workshop organised by both departments, please follow the link to the Eventbrite website.
A video from Chief Social Worker Sean Holland on draft Looked After Children Strategy is available to view.