I thank the Member for tabling this debate and the Members who have contributed. In my role as Health Minister, I have been actively engaged in seeking to address the issues outlined by the Members in the west Belfast and greater Shankill areas following the cessation of funding for integrated services for children and young people. Whilst Ministers McCausland, O'Dowd, Farry, Ford and I have worked together to fund a new £5 million intensive family support service across Belfast, which will benefit some of the families previously supported by integrated services, I am aware that both partnerships between them have identified 99 families with lower-level needs who will not benefit from that new service and who may not have been able to transfer to other local family support services available in the area. It is my understanding that those families do not meet the threshold for statutory social work involvement.
Before addressing the transitional needs of those families, I would first like to say a few words about the new intensive family support service being funded by me and my fellow Ministers. The service seeks to intervene with families with very complex needs across Belfast. Those families often experience very poor outcomes across generations, including long-term unemployment, addiction, poor health, poor school attendance or exclusion, involvement with the justice system and homelessness. The new service, modelled on the Troubled Families initiative in England, seeks to break the cycle of poor outcomes for the most socially complex families in Belfast. The families that will benefit from the service are currently engaged with a range of statutory services, including youth justice, social services and educational welfare. As well as providing additional support to those families, the new service will seek to improve the level of coordination between the various statutory agencies that are often involved with the families on a single-issue basis. The new service is being delivered by Extern, following an open procurement process. That is something that I cannot involve myself in. Procurement has to be fully above board, and that is how it was done.
I recognise the importance of the 99 families with lower-level needs who are not eligible for the new intensive service, and who have not been able to be transferred to other local services, receiving the support that they need to effectively transition from the integrated services for children and young people project. That said, the support offered should be transitional in nature. It needs to be time-limited and focused either on helping those families engage with other tier 2 services in the area or on successfully addressing the issues that they face in the period of transition. The establishment of family support hubs in Belfast, which I will say more about, should help with that process.
Having recognised that a need exists, as verified by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, I have been working with Minister McCausland, given his neighbourhood renewal responsibilities, to agree a transitional funding package. Some transitional funding has already been provided by the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency to facilitate the transfer of those families who meet the criteria for entry to the new intensive family support service.
From a longer-term perspective, I am aware that, in addition to the large number of existing services already in place for those types of families, a number of new services are being planned that will enhance the level of family support provision across Northern Ireland, including a number of initiatives being developed under the social investment fund and Delivering Social Change programmes that will benefit children, young people and families. For example, under Delivering Social Change, and with the support of private philanthropy, we have established an early intervention programme, underpinned by a £30 million fund. Between five Departments, we have contributed £10 million to the fund over three years. One of the principal aims of the transformation programme is to embed early intervention approaches across all mainstream children's services.
There is a proposal to develop a new early intervention service across Northern Ireland. The proposed service will aim to provide a consistent level of support to families with problems at an early stage, before those problems become embedded. If we are successful, that will prevent the need for future statutory involvement in the lives of many children and families across Northern Ireland. The design and development of the proposed service is currently being undertaken in partnership with the five outcomes groups and locality planning groups, which are part of the children and young people's strategic partnership arrangements, to ensure robust engagement with the community, voluntary and statutory sectors. The proposed development of the early intervention service, along with other proposed developments by way of initiatives such as the social investment fund, will seek to complement and integrate with existing family support services in areas such as west Belfast and the Shankill.
As I have referred to briefly already, my Department is developing a network of family support hubs across Northern Ireland. There will be 25 hubs in total, seven of which will be created in the Belfast area, across all parts of Belfast. The family support hub for Upper Springfield and Whiterock is already up and running, and other hubs will be coming on stream over the next weeks and months. It should be noted that the hubs do not deliver services directly but will play a vital role in coordinating the activities of local providers that will jointly identify appropriate tier 2 services for specific families.
As for integrated services, I pose a question to Mr Attwood. I welcome the fact that, when he was Social Development Minister, he put his money where his mouth was when other Ministers, in the Department of Health and the Department of Education, were not supportive. Subsequent to me becoming the Minister of Health, I have put my money, or my Department's money, where my mouth is. I recognise the vulnerability of the families involved. I recognise the need for children in those areas to receive additional support to give them an opportunity in life that they would not otherwise be able to avail themselves of.
In doing that, I gave ministerial direction to make this happen whilst Minister O'Dowd and the Department of Education walked away. That is not playing politics; that is telling the facts. When it came to west Belfast and the Shankill, the Sinn Féin Minister walked away, and he has to answer for himself why that was the case.
Work has been ongoing in the last two months to deal with the issue. The MP for North Belfast has been in with me on three or four occasions to discuss the issues, pressing for the people in the Shankill and west Belfast whilst I have not yet had a request for a meeting from the MP for West Belfast. I am pleased that I have been able to clear a paper that was received this week, which will allow up to £270,000 to go to integrated services to ensure that it can continue until the hubs are fully established.
To summarise, I am pleased to be able to announce the additional support for the West Belfast Partnership Board and the Greater Shankill Partnership Board in meeting the transitional needs of the families identified. I also outlined a range of new developments, some of which are aimed at supporting families with very complex needs while others are targeted at families who require earlier interventions. These new developments are intended to complement and improve coordination between existing services across Northern Ireland, including west Belfast. Our aim is to ensure that families who need a range of supports are able to access them locally and earlier.
It is time that people stepped up to the mark as opposed to complaining a lot about equality, poverty and everything that is happening. When it was within their gift as Ministers to deliver for people in circumstances such as this, they were nowhere to be seen, whereas people such as us carry out actions to ensure that we can help people in the worst possible circumstances.
Adjourned at 5.47 pm.
Will the Member give way?
Does the Member recognise that it was the Department of Health that came to the table whilst the Department of Education, under a Sinn Féin Minister, ran away from the people of the Falls Road, the Shankill and the most deprived areas and took the money away from Integrated Services in the first instance?
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