Delivering Social Change

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:00 pm on 19th May 2014.

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Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin 1:00 pm, 19th May 2014

3. asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline the proposals for stakeholder engagement with the children and young people's sector under Delivering Social Change. (AQO 6131/11-15)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I will ask my colleague junior Minister Jonathan Bell to answer this question.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

Delivering Social Change aims to deliver a sustained reduction in poverty and associated issues across all age groups and an improvement in children and young people's health, well-being and life opportunities.  Clearly, Delivering Social Change is not something that the Executive can deliver on their own.  We recognise that it will involve a partnership approach to help make change happen. 

Our Department hosted stakeholder engagement events in June and October 2012, with participation from children's sector organisations.  Those events led to the development of the children and young persons' early action paper, which identified the key priorities to be taken forward, and those informed the signature programmes.  Another stakeholder engagement event was held in June 2013

 

This January, we launched a consultation document, 'Delivering Social Change for Children and Young People', building on the work commissioned from the National Children's Bureau on an outcomes framework, which sets out a partnership approach to tackling child poverty and improving outcomes for children and young people.

 

We held six public consultation events, some of which were hosted by the children's sector, including Action for Children in Ballymena and the Children and Young People's Strategic Partnership in Armagh, as well as numerous consultative events with stakeholders such as Barnardo's Sixth Sense group, the Child Poverty Alliance and the Rural Community Network.  A new strategy will be laid in the Assembly shortly, which will set out a framework to include ongoing engagement with the children's sector and roles for the Commissioner for Children and Young People and children's sector organisations in the further development, delivery and, of course, monitoring of that work.

Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin 1:15 pm, 19th May 2014

Go raibh maith agat.  I thank the junior Minister for his comprehensive answer.  Does he accept that the children and young people's strategic partnership has been working within an indicator framework for quite some time?  Can he give assurances that that will be part of any future delivery of Delivering Social Change?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

We are always looking towards the indicators.  However, what I particularly like about the outcomes model is that we are measuring ourselves against results.  We know what the evidence base is, and the children's strategic partnership has given us the knowledge base and evidence to inform what we need to do.  It is important that, in OFMDFM, we measure ourselves against the results that we actually achieve.  That is why I find the outcomes approach the most effective.  It is about looking at the evidence, taking best practice and then considering the outcomes that are achieved.  As we monitor progress, we will refine and review those outcomes as we go along.

Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP

I thank the junior Minister for his answers.  Will he indicate what advances have been achieved in equipping children with the best educational start in life?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

If a child has the best educational start in life, not only can they lift themselves out of poverty but, often, they can have a significant impact on their family.  The key part of that is literacy and numeracy.  We specifically targeted young people who were experiencing difficulty and falling just below the mark in literacy and numeracy.  As a result of a programme in literacy and numeracy, over 223 teachers are now in post, providing additional teaching support to children and young people who are most at risk of underachieving in English and maths at critical stages of their education. 

The signature programme also provides recently graduated teachers with valuable experience.  Benefiting from that programme are 125 primary schools and 142 post-primary schools, including 61 controlled primary schools and 52 controlled post-primary schools.  It is encouraging that schools are already beginning to see a positive impact from that initiative.  They are seeing increased pupil confidence and pupils progressing and improving.  That is already evident within that specific target group.  The most encouraging thing that I have seen is an increase in scores in sample questions.  Attainment of a grade C in maths in the January 2014 examination showed progress and improvement.  The additional teaching and input is working, and we hope that that flows through to the exams that those young people take later in life.

  

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answers thus far.  The Minister outlined the process for monitoring and measuring.  Will he detail how Delivering Social Change will help early years intervention in socially deprived areas?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

Childcare is one of the most critical issues in socially deprived areas.  In the past, before we put the Bright Start programme in place — there is a question on this later so I will not give the full answer — many families told us that the big difficulty for people re-entering the workforce, particularly young women, was the cost of childcare.  We know that, when we get childcare right and have it at an appropriate standard as evidenced by the professionals in the field, such as the early years partnership, that young person develops their skills and the family is freed up. 

The difficulty was that childcare had to be flexible and affordable.  If you are starting out having to clear a £500 bill for childcare for a month, it ruins many people's prospects of re-entering the labour market.  So, we set out a programme to make it flexible, because hours change, particularly for young women re-entering the labour market on flexible contracts.  The childcare, therefore, had to be flexible.  It also had to be affordable.  We used a social enterprise model, which is incredibly exciting.  It was not just about minding children to allow people to go out.  We evidenced it against the standards of good practice that are already in place, so that the child gets a wonderful opportunity through their childcare.  That childcare is delivering with respect to their relationship, educational and social skills.  In many cases, it is giving those children a hand up regarding their educational performance.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People is tasked with looking after the interests of our children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable.  Can the junior Minister advise how OFMDFM has engaged actively with the Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner on designing the draft strategy and consultation plan?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I cannot recall just how many meetings both junior Minister McCann and I have had in the recent period; at least three spring to mind.  The Children's Commissioner operates, as she should, as a critical friend.  We have looked at all the issues.  At the last stage of the consultation event, which both junior Minister McCann and I attended, the speaker was the Children's Commissioner.  We have had constructive engagement with the Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner both formally and informally in private meetings in our offices.  We have used the evidence base that the commission has.  We have talked to its researchers.  We have talked to the heads of office in each of its fields.  As a result, we are, as I said, already seeing positive results in literacy and numeracy, with children attaining where previously they had not.