Social Workers Voice Concern over the Northern Ireland Budget Announcement
The British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland (BASW NI) is deeply concerned at the potential impacts of the Northern Ireland Budget announced by the Secretary of State. It is clear that severe pressures exist across all public services— not least in Health and Social Care and the education sector—and these pressures will be intensified by the real terms cut in the Health Budget and the 2.7% cut to the funding allocated to the Department of Education.
Prior to the publication of the Northern Ireland budget, BASW NI was alarmed at the recent decision by the Department of Education to end its Extended Schools Programme due to a lack of funding. This comes on the heels of the decision not to provide holiday hunger payments, over the Easter holidays, for children who receive free school meals.
Speaking about the budget announcement, BASW NI National Director, Carolyn Ewart said: “BASW NI is under no illusion concerning the pressures facing departmental finances. It is essential, however, that recent and future decisions are understood in terms of the impacts they will have on children and their families.”
Reflecting on the recent decision by the Department of Education to end the Extended Schools Programme, Ms Ewart said: “Addressing educational underachievement and providing all our children with opportunities to flourish, should be considered a non-negotiable starting point in terms of service provision. Children learn when they know they are safe and supported. Key to this is ensuring they are nourished and can concentrate in class. Ending the breakfast and homework clubs funded by the Extended Schools Programme, which are central to supporting many children to learn, will impede pupils and increase pressure on teachers. Unfortunately, given the Budget announced by the Secretary of State, this is likely to be the first of many cuts to services which children and families depend on.”
The Youth Wellbeing Prevalence Survey 2020, found that NI children have much poorer mental health and higher levels of trauma than their peers in the rest of the UK and 25% higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders. There are on average, 15,000 children a year referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in NI (CAMHS), and this figure will undoubtedly increase if early intervention and prevention services are reduced, and pressure on CAMHS and Children’s Social Work Services will increase.
Reflecting on mental health needs, Ms Ewart continued: “Unfortunately, when funding is restricted, it is often pupil support services, and artistic and sporting activities which are cut. We must recognise that these activities provide opportunities for children and young people to develop the skills and confidence to live happy and fulfilled lives. The direct impacts arising from the loss of this provision is difficult to quantify, but as professionals working closely with children and their families, social workers are conscious of the effects they will likely observe in the months and years ahead.”
Considering the financial pressures facing departments, BASW NI is concerned at the potential impacts for social work services—not only those delivered by Health and Social Care, but also services commissioned for delivery by organisations in the third sector. Pressures on services continue to grow, a point starkly illustrated by the number of children looked after by social services.
The Department of Health’s provisional statistics for the number of children in the care of social services highlight we have the highest number of children in care since the introduction of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The current figure of 3,770 (March 2023) represents a 12% increase on the pre-covid figure of 3,362.
Speaking about the pressures of services, Ms Ewart said: “The demand for social work services is acute and continues to increase. The upheaval caused to lives because of the pandemic continues to manifest in many problematic ways. Social workers are experiencing strain as they support children, individuals and families affected by issues including abuse, neglect, mental health problems and addiction, to name a few.
“As pressures intensify, it is unavoidable that attention is directed to focus on crisis issues. However, early intervention remains vital if problems are to be addressed before they become crises. Adequate resourcing for social work services in Northern Ireland is essential and resources must be allocated to meet need rather than services tailored to meet financial constraints.”
Ms Ewart finished by saying: “Senior civil servants are being placed in the invidious position of having to make decisions which, under normal circumstances would be the responsibility of ministers serving in a Northern Ireland Executive. I have written to the Permanent Secretaries of both the Department of Education and the Department of Health to raise the concerns of BASW NI members.
“While our members understand that the creation of a new Executive will not in itself be a solution to the problems we face, it is a dereliction of duty for those who could take their seats in an Executive and begin to address the pressures endured by children and families, to choose not to do so.
“Our children are being failed. Our society deserves better.”
Andy McClenaghan, BASW NI Public Affairs, Policy and Communications Lead
07702 517560 / email@example.com
Notes to editors:
Carolyn Ewart, BASW NI National Director, will be available for interview.