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Safeguarding Children

office of the First Minister and Deputy first minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 26th January 2009

4. asked the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the Executive’s position on safeguarding children.       (AQO 1863/09)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

Child protection and safeguarding children is a key priority for us all. Last year, we re-established the Bichard co-ordination group, which is overseeing the implementation of the Bichard recommendations here, particularly the establishment of the safeguarding vulnerable groups scheme.

OFMDFM has co-ordinated a cross-departmental safeguarding policy statement that binds and integrates existing measures on safeguarding children with new actions and policies. The junior Ministers will discuss that issue with the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister this week, and it is due to be considered by the Executive next month. In addition, the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people has identified safeguarding as a key priority. A cross-departmental subgroup led by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has developed work that is focused, in the short term, on the Byron Review into Internet Safety. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety sits on the British Council for Child Internet Safety, and officials from several Departments will be involved in the council’s working groups.

The junior Ministers met NIO Minister Paul Goggins late last year to discuss how to improve the management of sex offenders who prey on the young and vulnerable on both sides of the border. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is making progress on cross-border child protection measures, which is also a live issue for the North/South Ministerial Council. Indeed, it was discussed at its meeting last Friday.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the deputy First Minister for his answer. I am pleased that the issue of child protection was on the agenda at the latest North/South Ministerial Council meeting. Given the recent case reported in the media about predators — for whom there can be no hiding place — will the Minister confirm that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety attended the North/South Ministerial Council meeting and addressed it on this topic, and outline any issues that he proposes to bring forward?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

Child protection was discussed at the North/South Ministerial Council meeting. Unfortunately, the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety was not able to attend.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

I thank the deputy First Minister for his answer. However, can he say whether any of the Executive’s child-safety programmes have been, or are likely to be, delayed by the now-admitted £1 million black hole in the Budget?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I take issue with the Member’s last comment. Quite clearly, important targets are in place. Ministers, in particular junior Ministers in the Executive, are working hard to ensure that children are protected in the way that they deserve to be protected. From our perspective, it is very important to move forward in a way that will see all children protected. The ministerial subcommittee on children and young people was established in January 2008, and is chaired by the junior Ministers. The subcommittee has identified six key priorities, and established cross-departmental subgroups to develop those issues.

A holistic approach is being taken to child poverty that involves a comprehensive early-years strategy that focuses on the development and well-being of each child, including affordable access to high-quality early years provision for families in urban and rural areas of disadvantage and poverty, and provision for vulnerable young people, including those in care settings, those engaged in antisocial behaviour, and those in contact with the criminal justice system.

Other key areas include the promotion of good mental health and early intervention in addressing mental-health issues as they arise; providing care for children with autism, learning, physical and sensory disabilities, including respite and community provision; safeguarding, including support for parents, families and carers; provision for children with special educational needs in mainstream and special schools, including transition to adulthood and the provision of appropriate health and social care intervention; and the provision of school buses, road-safety and transport issues.

The subgroups identified a small number of key priorities on which to focus, and they will report back at the next meeting of the ministerial subcommittee. It has also been recognised that childcare is an immediate priority, and an additional subgroup, which is linked to the subgroup on child poverty, is focusing specifically on that cross-cutting theme. Therefore, much work is being done, and we are determined to ensure that we meet the needs of our young people.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

Has the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister carried out any analysis of the impact that ending Executive funds for children and young people would have? How does he intend to co-ordinate with the NIO on reserved and excepted matters on safeguarding children?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The Executive have made it clear that we believe that all Departments have a responsibility for providing on the issues that the Member outlined. We have placed responsibility on all Departments to ensure that there is delivery on those important issues. I think that that is the sensible way to proceed. However, we all recognise that particular challenges affect young people and that we are duty-bound at all stages of our processes to review continually how we meet the needs of our young people.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Question 5 has been withdrawn.