Northern Ireland Children's Bill Progress

Posted by Patrick Malone / Friday 13 February 2015 / Children's rights Law

A joined up approach to the delivery of services to children and young people in Northern Ireland came a step closer recently with the passing of the Second Stage of a Private Member’s Bill through the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

The Children's Services Co-operation Bill, also known as the Children's Bill, has been brought forward by the leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, Steven Agnew MLA. If enacted into law, the proposed legislation will require each of the departments within the Northern Ireland Executive to co-operate with one another in respect of the delivery of services to children and young people in Northern Ireland. In so doing, it is hoped that the wellbeing and opportunities of children and young people (defined as being up to the age of 21) in Northern Ireland will be greatly enhanced.

 Speaking at the launch of his Bill, Mr Agnew said ““There will always be disagreement in politics; indeed it is necessary for a healthy democracy. The structures of governance in Northern Ireland do not encourage co-operation but I am seeking cross party support for a piece of legislation which will make a real difference to children’s lives and future potential. If devolution is to deliver, the very least we can expect is for parties to work together to produce better outcomes for our children.”

 The Bill would require departments within the Northern Ireland Executive to work collectively to achieve six outcomes for children and young people, namely: being healthy; enjoying learning and achieving; living in safety and with stability; experiencing economic and environmental well-being; contributing positively to community and society; and living in a society which respects their rights.

 The Bill would compel all departments within the Northern Ireland Executive to collaborate in achieving better outcomes for children and young people. It would also compel relevant departments and agencies controlled by the Northern Ireland Executive, public bodies and local councils to work together in planning, commissioning and delivering services for children and young people.

 It would require the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to publish every two years a report on the progress of the departments towards closer collaboration on children’s services.

 The Bill would also allow departments to pool their budgets, staff and other resources in order to better ensure cooperation in respect of children’s services.

 As part of our role as members of Children in Northern Ireland, Action for Children have supported the Bill since the initial consultation. We will continue to contribute to the debate, and the drive to ensure this Bill becomes law, both through our own lobbying efforts, and also in conjunction with our colleagues across the sector in Northern Ireland

 The Bill passed through its Second Stage within the Northern Ireland Assembly unopposed and now goes to Committee stage. However, much work remains to be done to ensure that the Bill becomes law.

This can be seen from comments made by representatives from the 2 largest parties within the Northern Ireland Assembly during the debate as part of the Second Stage of the Bill’s passage through the Assembly.

 Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon said: “There is some ambiguity around the Bill. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make out its policy intent in a clear way”.

 And the Democratic Unionist Party’s Brenda Hale said: “While we are supporting the Bill today, if it is not radically redrafted, our support cannot be guaranteed.”

 We believe successful passage of this Bill is vital to the life chances of children and young people in Northern Ireland, and we will therefore focus our influencing activities within the next 6 – 12 months to ensure that the Bill has the greatest possible opportunity of becoming law.

Help us do more.

Your support will help us make life better for the UK's most vulnerable children and young people.