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The Detail Data project is a BIG Lottery NI funded partnership between NICVA and The Detail investigative journalism website.

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Review of Adult Social Care – power to carers? An event summary

Panorama of attendees at event

On Monday 12 March, the Coalition of Carers’ Organisations NI, with NICVA and DetailData, hosted an event assessing the potential impact on carers from the Review of Adult Social Care.

The report from the Expert Advisory Panel on Adult Care & Support, Power to People: Proposals to reboot adult care and support in NI was published in December 2017. Among its 16 recommendations is a proposal that “the rights of family carers are put on a legal footing and that a strategy to bring them into the heart of transformation of adult care and support is adopted”.

Approximately 70 people, 50 of whom identified as carers, attended the event which was held at NICVA. Representatives from the Reform Team at the Department of Health presented to attendees and looked at why reform is needed; the background to the reform project; the Expert Panel; and next steps. Attendees were then invited to discuss the report and give feedback to the Department.

Why reform?

It was explained that there were several demographic and social factors behind the reasoning for reform:

  • There will be an additional 250,000 people over the age of 65 in Northern Ireland by 2050 and the population of over-85s will see a three-fold increase in the same period
  • There will be a trend of a declining working-age population as the increase in over-65s and over-85s will be greater than the increase in the overall population
  • The population of older people will be greater than that of children and young people for the first time in 2028 and that gap will continue to grow.
  • This will lead to a greater demand for care. An additional 20,101 care packages will be required in 2037 compared to 2016; an increase of 68%

Other factors driving reform included difficulties recruiting and retaining social care staff to deliver care, funding and sustaining delivering ‘more of the same’ to meet growing demand simply is not possible as there is no prospect of the health and social care budget significantly increasing. This was set in the context of the increasingly high expectations of service delivery.

The increasing pressure on unpaid family carers was also a key driver of reform – that carers often feel out of sight and undervalued by the health and social care system, despite the savings that the 214,000 unpaid carers in Northern Ireland bring to government.  

The Reform Project

The Department said the Reform Project is a three-stage process.

Stage One commenced in autumn 2012 with the launch of the ‘Who Cares? The Future of Adult Care and Support in Northern Ireland’, a six-month consultation period lasting to March 2013.

Stage Two commenced in 2016 with the appointment of an Independent Expert Advisory Panel to develop proposals for change.

Stage Three will deal with the implementation of the recommendations from the Independent Expert Advisory Panel as well as identifying final reforms.

The Expert Advisory Panel

The Department said that as part of Stage Two of the reform process, Des Kelly and John Kennedy were appointed to lead an Independent Expert Advisory Panel, tasked with developing firm proposals for change. Over the next twelve months, the Expert Advisory Panel held a call for evidence, workshops, meetings and site visits as part of their review into adult social care.

The Panel’s report, Power to People: Proposals to reboot adult care and support in NI, was published in December 2017 and contained 16 proposals for change.

The report acknowledged that without carers, the health and social care system in Northern Ireland would collapse. Despite this, the report found that many carers remain unknown to the very system they are vital to and many do not feel they are treated as equal partners.

The Panel therefore concluded that carers’ rights in Northern Ireland must be strengthened and with greater support structures in place. Among the report’s 16 proposals is a proposal (Proposal 3) that “the rights of family carers are put on a legal footing and that a strategy to bring them into the heart of transformation of adult care and support is adopted” – in other words, a new strategy and carers legislation.

So, what is the Department doing with the proposals?

The Department updated that a Project Team has been tasked with developing an action plan setting out a proposed response to each of the Panel’s proposals. This would be subject to further public consultation in Spring 2019. Once the consultation process and analysis of responses has completed, the Department will move to Stage Three of the reform process, the implementation period.

The Department said that an Independent Carers Panel made up of 20 members is in the process of being designed. It was explained this panel would be appointed from an open recruitment process and is intended to ensure that the voice of carers is embedded in strategic decision making.

What did attendees at the event say?

Proposal 3 was universally accepted by attendees as a good idea in principle and was warmly received. However, there was a strong element of cynicism in the room as to how it will be implemented in practice and whether anything would change. This cynicism was evident when attendees were asked in one or two words, what came to mind when they think of ‘adult social care’. Among the most popular responses were ‘crisis’, ‘under-resourced’, ‘worry’, ‘money’ and ‘stress’.

Some in attendance felt they had heard ‘reform’ this before and past experiences led them to believe they were at the bottom of the health and social care agenda. Despite a willingness to be involved, some believed there was poor communication in the past with carers.

Some attendees had questions as to how the Review’s proposals would be resourced in a financially-constrained environment. Some expressed disappointment that the Review did not include parent-carers and young carers and wanted Stage 3 to address rights for those groups of carers. 

Attendees felt the Department should learn from the experiences of the Care Act in England and advised the need for any carers legislation to be clear, transparent and be uniformly implemented across all HSC Trusts.

There was also a strong feeling that many carers are self-identifying, and in some cases, carers do not recognise themselves as such. It was suggested by many in the room that a public campaign was required raise the profile of carers and to inform carers of their role and rights.

Many had questions on the proposed Independent Carers Panel and urged the Department to ensure the Independent Carers Panel was fully representative, rural-proofed and that panel members are enabled to attend via remuneration and carer support/cover.

What did attendees think the challenges ahead were?

Attendees thought overcoming cynicism and rebuilding the trust of carers was one of the biggest challenges the Department faced as it continues with Stage 2 of the process. Despite this, there was a strong willingness, particularly from carers, to remain heavily involved in the reform process.

The lack of an Assembly and Executive was also cited as a challenge. While it was recognised that legislation and a final strategy was still some years away, with little clarity on the future of devolution, who would sign off on further consultation and a new Carers Strategy if there is no Health Minister, and where would a Carers Bill embark on its legislative process if there’s no Assembly?

What did attendees think a Carers Bill should include?

The proposal to legislate for carers was strongly welcomed by attendees. Among the suggestions for inclusion in a Carers Bill for Northern Ireland were:

  • The word ‘Carer’ in the title of the legislation
  • A clear legal definition of a carer
  • A legal duty to identify all carers, including parent-carers and young carers
  • A legal duty to provide support and information to carers
  • The alignment of carers’ rights with other rights models, e.g. employment
  • The state’s responsibilities to carers
  • Provision of respite and breaks to carers

The Coalition of Carers’ Organisations will continue to work and engage with the Department of Health in the coming months as they finalise Stage Two of the reform process.

The Coalition would like to place on record its thanks to Dean Looney (Department of Health), Sarah-Megan Wylie (Department of Finance/Innovation Lab) and Anna Whicher (PDR/Cardiff Metropolitan University) for presenting at the event and engaging with attendees on the day.

 

Who are the Coalition of Carers Organisations NI?

The Coalition of Carers Organisations NI (formerly the Carers Coalition) is a coalition of organisations who are collaborating to advance the rights of carers in Northern Ireland. The coalition includes: Carers NI, NICVA, Cause, The Stroke Association, Marie Curie, Macmillan, Age NI, Positive Futures and Mencap. The Coalition was established after the publication of the DetailData story ‘Who Cares for Carers’ in June 2016.

The DetailData project was a BIG Lottery NI-funded partnership between NICVA and The Detail investigative journalism website and came to an end in March 2018.

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We need to talk about death in Northern Ireland

THE cost of a burial plot in Northern Ireland ranges from £261 to £3,116, an investigation into death and dying by Detail Data has found.

This is just one of the key findings of our examination which looked into the cost associated with dying, the cause of death, the impact of changes in bereavement benefit payments and what it is like to live with a terminal diagnosis.

It comes against a backdrop of dwindling government financial support and rising funeral costs, which were 88% more expensive last year compared to 2004.

Our research has led to calls for an overhaul of government financial support and regulation of the funeral industry.

Joan McEwan, Marie Curie’s head of policy and public affairs in Northern Ireland, said: “I think the whole topic of death and dying is one as a society we struggle with.”

Gary Hunter, who is living with an incurable cancer, stated: “Death is a part of life so it is important to think about it and to consider how it will impact on your family.”

Citizens Advice Northern Ireland, Marie Curie and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) believe a public health campaign is needed to address the issue.

Gary Haire, NAFD’s Northern Ireland federation president stated: “Families are often fractured in bereavement which can bring out the best and worst of individuals in the family when death is not discussed in advanced. Ensuring that the Public Health Agency has a more proactive campaign in talking about death and dying would help and perhaps more funeral directors need to be advocates for increasing this discussion within society.

Corrina Grimes, allied health professions consultant and palliative care lead at the Public Health Agency (PHA), said: “While it may not be something that we want to think about, the PHA would encourage everyone to think ahead to plan for the future in terms of their personal affairs and any wishes they may have for their care towards, and at the end, of life."

Today we are publishing a series of articles looking at death and dying. Click on the links below to read the stories.

The postcode burial lottery

  • The cost of burial in a council cemetery ranges from £261 to £3,116 across Northern Ireland. We requested and analysed the fees for the 11 council areas.

The cost

  • More than 18,000 people over five years sought government financial assistance with the cost of a loved one’s funeral.
  • Since 2012 the government has written off more than £16million in funeral debt.

Bereavement benefits

  • Families with young children who suffer the loss of their mother or father could be up to £100,000 worse off after Widowed Parent’s Allowance was replaced with the less generous Bereavement Support Payment.

Living with a terminal illness

  • Father-of-three Gary Hunter tells us about living with an incurable cancer and how he has faced up to his own mortality.

The hidden cost

  • 3,000 people with life limiting conditions are missing out on end-of-life care every year.

The funeral industry

  • The funeral directors who have pledged to publish their prices and how much the industry makes.

For further information on what support is available click here.

To access all the data related to this project click here.

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Malicious hoax calls to NI Ambulance Service "putting lives at risk"

More than 9,300 potential hoax calls were made to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) over two years, with the cost of dispatching ambulances to deal with these incidents estimated at nearly £200,000.

The ambulance service and Department of Health (DoH) have both warned that hoax calls can endanger people’s lives.

Statistics, which were released to Detail Data under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, show one instance on May 16th 2016 when a crew dispatched from Whiteabbey Ambulance Station spent almost 10 hours dealing with a potential hoax, only to find no case at the scene.

The data shows another occasion on December 20th 2015 when five ambulances were dispatched on a call, which was initially believed to relate to either an assault or a sexual assault, and the crews found nobody to treat.

NIAS Director of Operations, Brian McNeill, stated that hoax calls increase ambulance waiting times for those genuinely in need and are: “Potentially life threatening.”

The Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke, Declan Cunnane, told Detail Data: “When someone has a stroke or heart attack, time is of the essence. Any delay in treatment can have a serious impact on how well the person recovers, if indeed they do. We would ask the hoaxers to think how they would feel if it were their loved one who was ill.”

There were over 210,000 emergency calls made to the NIAS in 2016/17, almost 10,000 more than were received in 2015/16 and over 20,000 more than in 2014/15.

Of this, a DoH spokesperson said: “At this time of ever increasing demand, malicious hoax calls are putting lives at risk, wasting critical resources and valuable time for the front line and control staff that have to investigate these calls.”

The FOI request sent by Detail Data asked for statistics relating to every hoax call recorded by the NIAS between 1st August 2015 and 31st July 2017. The ambulance service provided details on 9,319 calls which they had categorised as potential hoaxes during this time.

To read the full story click here 

To view the data behind the story click here

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Extradition issue to become ‘toxic’ post-Brexit

THE extradition process "could become toxic once again” if the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is lost as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, a senior civil servant has warned.

A Detail Data investigation has found that in the past ten years hundreds of EAWs have been sought to extradite suspects in high profile cases - which have included murder, rape, human trafficking and terrorism - into and out of Northern Ireland.

Department of Justice (DOJ) documents obtained by Detail Data under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the department believes: "For practical law enforcement the maintenance of the European Arrest Warrant system is essential."

Our investigation of this issue has found that:

  • The PSNI sought 154 EAWs between January 2007 and May 2017. Of these, 95 warrants were granted, leading to the extradition of 49 suspects back to Northern Ireland.
  • The EAWs were sought in relation to offences such as Breach of Licence (13 cases), rape (10), murder (7), human trafficking (2) and terrorism (2).
  • The overwhelming majority of the PSNI applications (114) were for extradition of suspects believed to be in the Republic back to Northern Ireland.
  • Of the 154 suspects, 143 were male.
  • A total of 14 non-EAW extradition requests were made to countries including Australia (6), Bangladesh (2), Brazil (1), India (1), Norway (2) and the USA (1). These were for crimes including rape, murder, GBH and fraud. Of the 14 requests, just two warrants were issued (in the Australian cases). Both of which were actioned.
  • NI Court Service granted 354 extradition applications to other countries from January 2007 to March 2017. Nine other applications were not granted. The courts data does not state how many were EAWs or which countries had sought the extraditions. 

To read the full article click here

To view the data supporting the story click here

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8,158 deaths in Northern Ireland: "We need a suicide prevention strategy as a matter of urgency"

NEW figures have today confirmed that 297 people were officially recorded as having died from suicide in Northern Ireland in 2016.

Records available from 1970 up to the end of June 2017 show that the total number of people known to have taken their own lives has now reached 8,158. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) data confirms that 221 males and 76 females died by suicide during 2016. Provisional figures compiled by the Registrar General also show a further 164 deaths by suicide have already been recorded in the first six months of this year – 125 males and 39 females. This death toll from January to June 2017 includes two young people aged 14 or under.

Suicide deaths can take time to be fully investigated and there is often a period of time between when the suicide occurs and when it is registered. The Department of Health has described the scale of loss from suicide as “unacceptably high” and said it is very concerned about the high number of deaths recorded in the first six months of 2017. In Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK, reported suicides include cases where the cause of death is classified as either ‘intentional self-harm’ or ‘event of undetermined intent’.

Of the people who died from suicide in 2016 – 74% were male (221) and 40% were aged between 15 and 34. The final 2016 data contradicts figures contained in four quarterly reports for 2016 which are still available on the NISRA website. These show 305 suicides registered during 2016 - eight higher than the final published figure.

Last year, Detail Data reported that the highest ever annual number of suicide deaths in Northern Ireland was recorded during 2015. And in 2014 we revealed that almost as many people had died from suicide in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement as were killed during the entire Troubles. There is no simple explanation for why someone chooses to die by suicide and it is rarely due to one particular factor. Experts say mental health problems are important influences, as well as alcohol and substance misuse, feeling desperate, helpless or without hope.

The Department of Health has consulted on Protect Life 2, a draft suicide prevention strategy for Northern Ireland. The new strategy was due to be published in 2017 but the department has confirmed it requires both "Ministerial signature and Executive sign off".

Siobhan O'Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, said: “I am shocked that the suicide death numbers are not really going down. They vary slightly year on year, but there is no downward trend. The trend in the rest of the UK is downwards and in Ireland it is stabilising. We need a suicide prevention strategy as a matter of urgency but we don’t have a government to sign off on it. However, even if we did, the draft strategy was too narrow and focused on people already in contact with mental health services. I am also concerned about plans to restructure the Lifeline service. Some health trusts are working really hard to implement the method of zero suicide but there is no direction from the top and no leadership on the issue.”

Professor O’Neill said 8,158 suicide deaths since 1970 is “horrific and appalling” and will have affected a huge number of people. "Each suicide is estimated to cost the economy at least £1million so if we look at the costs and what we are spending on suicide prevention, it doesn’t add up,” she continued. "Every single death from suicide is a preventable tragedy. I fear that the number of deaths may even increase in the future due to the impact of welfare reform. People working on the ground are talking about dealing with levels of poverty we have never seen before. We need stronger leadership and for our politicians to stop fighting with each other and instead to focus on why people here are ending their own lives.”

Pat McGreevy, from the Suicide Down to Zero charity based in Downpatrick, said: “We have no public information campaign designed to prevent suicide. We need to start talking about suicide to address the stigma and to encourage people to come forward to seek help. We need a radical approach to prevent deaths. There is no acceptable level of suicides. Just chipping away at the issue isn’t enough. Suicide has left a lifelong emotional scar on families across Northern Ireland. There can be a huge number of people directly affected by even a single suicide.“Inter-family suicide is also an issue we are extremely concerned about. This is where other members of a family also take their own lives after losing someone to suicide. Our ambition and aspiration is to have zero suicide deaths in Northern Ireland and we would like to see our politicians back at Stormont ready to address this issue together.”

THE DEPARTMENT'S VIEW

We asked the Department of Health to comment on the new figures. A department spokesperson said: “It is important to consider suicide trends over a relatively long period. Increases or decreases by quarter or year should not be considered in isolation. The department monitors the change in the suicide rate on a rolling three year average. The suicide rate in Northern Ireland has remained relatively steady over the past decade, although we acknowledge that the scale of loss is unacceptably high. We are also very concerned about the high number of deaths recorded in the first six months of 2017. Providers of suicide prevention services and mental health crisis services have reported increasing numbers of individuals presenting over the past 12 months, particularly in the Belfast area. In response, there have been service enhancements to most contracts funded under Protect Life.”

The department spokesperson said that reducing the suicide rate in Northern Ireland continues to be a priority and that £7million is allocated annually to suicide prevention by the department through the Public Health Agency. It said this funding level would continue under the new suicide prevention strategy. However, the strategy requires "Ministerial signature and Executive sign off". “It was clearly recognised in the consultation that Protect Life 2 must encompass a wider field than health and social care services and that suicide prevention is the responsibility of all Executive departments,” the spokesperson added.

  • The Registrar General's annual report for 2016, can be accessed here. The quarterly tables so far for 2017 are available here.
  • Lifeline is the Northern Ireland crisis response helpline service for people who are experiencing distress or despair. It can be contacted confidentially on 0808 808 8000.
  • The Samaritans can be contacted by telephone on 116 123 or email [email protected]
  • Suicide Down to Zero can be contacted on [email protected] 

 

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More than 1,000 people now living with HIV in Northern Ireland

New data has revealed that more than 1,000 people known to be living with HIV in Northern Ireland, with 94 people being diagnosed with the condition in 2016 alone.   

The head of HIV charity Positive LIfe, Jacquie Richardson has said the figures hightlight how Northern Ireland continues to lag behind other countries in addressing HIV.

The figures, published by Public Health England on October 3, reveal that of the new diagnoses, 72 were male and 22 were female.

This means, that as of 2016, there were at least 781 men and 219 women in Northern Ireland living with HIV.

Of those diagnosed in 2016, a total of 29 people were aged 25-34 and 35 were aged 35-49.

A small number (less than five) of people aged 65 and over were also recorded among the 2016 diagnoses. 

To read Detail Data's previous story on HIV click here

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Housing intimidation in Northern Ireland: More than 2,000 incidents but only 32 convictions

DESPITE nearly 2,000 validated incidents of people being forced from their homes in Northern Ireland due to housing intimidation in the past five years, just 32 convictions have been secured.

Belfast based investigative website Detail Data has also found that the issue of housing intimidation has cost the Housing Executive more than £7.5million since 2012.

Information on where the majority of incidents have taken place suggests the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries.

Despite the number of incidents, the financial cost and the serious risk presented to victims, the PSNI has said it does not record housing intimidation in its own right, rather including it in an overarching category encompassing all forms of intimidation offences.

Detail Data was, however, able to use data from the Housing Executive and the Courts Service to reveal:

  • Between 2012/13 and 2016/17 the Housing Executive spent £6,709,430 buying 57 houses from homeowners forced out of their property as a result of paramilitary, sectarian, racist, sexual orientation and disability related intimidation.
  • The Housing Executive also paid out £808,174 in Emergency Grant Payments to over 1,000 householders who had to move from their rented homes due to intimidation during this five-year period.
  • During the period, a total of 2,060 incidents of housing intimidation were accepted by the Housing Executive.
  • A sample of data from the past two years also showed that the overwhelming majority of incidents were recorded in Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Ards & North Down and the Antrim & Newtownabbey council areas. A more detailed breakdown (eg by postcode, town) is not available.
  • Court figures reveal that 32 convictions were secured for the offence of ‘intimidation - causing person to leave residence/occupation’ between 2011 and 2016.

To read the follow story click here

To access the data that supports the story click here

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Postcode care lottery for people living with Huntington's Disease

A DECADE after the urgent need for five Huntington’s Disease co-ordinators in Northern Ireland was identified in a report – at least 48 patients with the rare brain condition have no access to the specialist support because of where they live.

In Northern Ireland 118 people are known to have the incurable hereditary disease. However, the postcode lottery means just people living within two of the five health trusts, effectively covering the greater Belfast area, can be seen by Northern Ireland’s only specialist Huntington’s Disease (HD) nurse.

Sorcha McGuinness from the Huntington's Disease Association Northern Ireland explained that in the advanced stages of the condition, people usually require 24-hour care. "They won't be able to move or to speak. Some people won't be able to swallow so they'll be reliant on tube feeding. It's a very devastating disease."

The HD nurse plays a key part acting as a link to services including mental health, neurology, GPs, social services, occupational therapy and speech and language and also provides medical training to professionals involved in caring for people affected by HD. The HD nurse also reviews the complex mix of medication a patient may have to take and advises GPs and pharmacists.

South Eastern HD patients are referred to the Belfast Trust’s specialist nurse and that cost is covered by the Health and Social Care Board. But HD patients living in the Western, Northern and Southern health trust areas have no access to a HD specialist nurse.

One of those patients is Simon Clark, 45, from Derry/Londonderry. He explained: “At times like now when I am really struggling with HD....I would like to go to someone but there’s no one there.I think it’s disgusting to be honest. It’s wrong – why should we be penalised? We are basically begging for help and we are just not getting it.”

The findings come as the Huntington’s Disease Association Northern Ireland (HDANI) holds its annual conference today (Friday October 6) in Belfast’s Duncairn Arts Centre.

Sorcha McGuinness, chief executive of HDANI, said families were being “put at risk” because of the inequality in care. “It’s completely unacceptable that some patients haven’t got access to treatment simply because of where they live. In this day-and-age everybody should have equal access to services.” She added: “Even in the Belfast and South Eastern Trust where services exist, there’s a lot more could be done.”

 

 

Detail Data can also reveal that:

  • A HD care advisor post has been vacant for around 16 months.
  • Six months after the Department of Health Permanent Secretary contacted the Belfast Trust and the Health and Social Care Board to ask them to renew their efforts in recruiting a social worker for the above post – it remains unfilled.
  • The Northern, Western and Southern Trusts have no plans to recruit a HD specialist nurse in 2017/18.
  • Staff shortages in the Belfast Trust area have resulted in more than eight months delay for genetic counselling - patients at risk of HD have to undergo counselling before they can be tested for the disease.

To read the stories of people in Northern Ireland living with the disease, click here.

To view the data that supports this story click here

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Detail Data Partnership with the ADRC-NI

For some time, Detail Data and the ADRC NI have worked in partnership to bring different source of research and data to the voluntary and community sector to help inform their decision making, service delivery and strategic planning.

One of the ways we do this is by running a series of free data workshops with presentations from ADRC-NI researchers and the Detail Data team. The first was held in February 2017 and focused on carers and caring. The second workshop was held in May 2017 and focused on mental health. The third workshop was held on 26th September and focused on women's reproductive rights. Over 100 participants attended these events.

So what are the benefits of these workshops to the sector right now?

Anecdotal research has proven that when the sector receives cuts in funding one the of the first functions to be affected is research. With less income organisations direct resources to frontline services and the ability of organisations to undertaken research becomes more limited. With this in mind both Detail Data and the ADRC-NI wanted to make organisations aware that there are other options. Firstly, that there is a range of relevant open data sources available that organisations can utilise. Secondly that organisations can work with academics to shape research that is relevant to them.  

For more information on these workshops contact Andrea Thornbury, [email protected] / 02890 877777

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Report recommends new era of openness for family courts

MAJOR changes to Northern Ireland’s family court system have been recommended by a leading judge today following a two year review of the system.

A key element is to encourage mediation for separated parents to divert them away from adversarial court proceedings.

The Right Honourable Lord Justice Gillen has also proposed the creation of a single family court to replace the current three-tier system and better media access to family court hearings, normally held behind closed doors.

Among the recommendations in the Family Justice Report is the introduction of ‘problem solving courts’ including a new drug and alcohol court and a domestic violence court, which will offer parents struggling with addiction the opportunity to engage with experts and services in a bid to turn their lives around.

Detail Data previously investigated the family court system by analysing data relating to three years of family court proceedings.

The Lord Chief Justice granted us rare access to the family courts, which deal with sensitive issues, normally held in private, such as children being removed from their parents’ care and separated couples fighting over custody of their children.

We found more than 24,000 decisions impacting on thousands of children’s lives were made by judges. Almost half of them were for ‘contact’ and ‘residence’ – generally setting out which parent a child lives with and when they have contact with the other parent.

The article ‘Inside Northern Ireland’s family courts’ and official submissions made individually by The Detail and Detail Data, a project linking data journalists with grass root groups, to the review process are cited in today’s report.

Many of the 176 proposed changes will be implemented directly by the judiciary – others may require legislative change either by Stormont or direct rule politicians.

In a speech today at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Lord Justice Gillen said: “Another golden thread running throughout this review has been recognition that justice can at times be dispensed more efficiently and arguably more fairly, in settings outside traditional courts. Alternative dispute resolution and mediation are ideas whose time has come. Mediation must become an early port of call in judicial thinking.”

Joan Davis, Director of Family Mediation NI, said: “I am delighted that Justice Gillen has recommended that we seek to prioritise an early intervention approach as the most appropriate and likely to achieve better outcomes for all. He also recognises the need for more in-house court mediation and a ‘one stop’ shop approach as developed in New Zealand so that all the issues of modern society that culminate in relationship breakdown can be addressed before consideration of court as an option.”

Other key recommendations in the 268-page report include:

  • The creation of a Family Justice Board to replace the Children Order’s Advisory Committee, which was established to advise ministers on the progress of Children Order cases through the court system with a view to identifying difficulties and reducing avoidable delay.
  • The new Family Justice Board will be responsible for driving significant improvement, review progress and consistency in the system, carrying out research and suggesting reform in the performance of the family justice system.
  • Educative parenting programmes in private law cases with a special focus on the future well-being of children and not the conflict between the adults.
  • Developing the voice of the child in family court proceedings.
  • The introduction of a fast-track, priority system for cases where contact has broken down.
  • Cases involving alleged non-accidental injury of children to be fast-tracked.

Following Detail Data’s special report, we were instrumental in the formation of a family court coalition group in 2016. It brought together Family Mediation NI, NSPCC, Barnardo’s NI, Familyworks NI, Parenting NI, the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers and NICVA to work together to lobby and influence government collectively.

The Detail Data coalition, which submitted a response to the Review of Family Justice, focusing particularly on resolutions outside court, has been cited in Justice Gillen’s report.

It says: “The response from Detail Data – a coalition of leading organisations including Family Mediation NI, the NSPCC, Barnardo’s NI, Familyworks NI, Parenting NI, the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers, Detail Data and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action – similarly gives strong support to the fresh emphasis on solutions outside the court system.”

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