Minister O’Gorman PEIN AGM 2020 Speech

Issued by the Prevention and Early Intervention Network
Wednesday 18 November 2020

Colleagues,

I’m delighted to be speaking with you today.

I know that everyone here today shares the goal of improving the lives of children and young people in Ireland, and in looking to achieve that, we all recognise the importance of prevention and early intervention as the key tool to achieve this.

Firstly, I want to commend you, as a network, on a year of tireless advocacy on this issue, as well as the work of many of the attendees here to transform children’s lives.

The last year has been a difficult period for many children, young people and their families. We know how much has been asked of all the services who work to support children throughout Ireland, and we remember how vital many of your organisations and networks have been to preserving the health and wellbeing of children and young people, particularly those suffering disadvantage and from marginalised backgrounds.

This year has brought with it many challenges, but it is through this difficult year that we can clearly see the value of these supports for the most vulnerable in our society.

This year has also highlighted the importance of a joined-up continuum of care for those in need and, indeed, the central position of prevention and early intervention.

The past decade has seen an unprecedented transformation in children and young people’s services. There has been considerable development of innovative prevention and early intervention approaches both by the State and its partners in the community and voluntary sector. Initiatives such as the Children and Young People’s Services Committees (CYPSC), the Area Based Childhood Programme and Tusla’s Prevention Partnership and Family Support Programme are such transformative developments. These initiatives are having a positive impact today.

Organisations both in the community and voluntary, and the statutory sector are more committed than ever before and the development of the PEI Network itself is a marker of this progress. To move to the next stage, we also need to embed a long-term, sustainable vision for prevention and early intervention as part of a continuum of care for children and young people.

My Department has championed prevention and early intervention in Government by laying its policy foundation in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, our national policy framework for children and young people. We have built on this commitment in later policy developments, including First 5, the whole-of-Government Early Years Strategy. I must acknowledge the important role of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has completed a programme of research on prevention and early intervention in a range of contexts.

Such policies have highlighted the importance of parenting on children’s lives in influencing social, emotional, and physical outcomes. We know that parenting and family support is an incredibly effective prevention and early intervention measure.

Children benefit from positive parenting, and parenting supports help parents enhance their child’s wellbeing and improves outcomes in later life. By supporting parents in their role, we help prevent problems developing for children, and help families realise their full potential.

Parenting supports are provided by a wide range of organisations, and these supports range from universal to more targeted supports to increase parents’ resources and support them to parent confidently and positively. The importance of the family for positive child outcomes is well evidenced, we know that the family unit is the primary source for the promotion and protection of children’s health and wellbeing.

My Department is leading on the development of a national model of parenting support services. This will take account of the needs and preferences of parents in Ireland as well as the views of children. It will consider both universal and targeted provision, covering key stages of child development, taking account of parents and children in a range of contexts and parenting relationships.

The national model will support prevention and early intervention by providing a more unified approach to the provision of parenting supports for all parents. Our aim is to ensure that all parents can access the supports they need when they need them.

We know that to maximise gains for children and young people we have to take a systematic approach to the development of prevention and early intervention services in Ireland.  We need to recognise good practice and respond to the needs of all those working for children and young people. We need to create a parity of esteem for all those in this sector.

My Department’s What Works initiative takes this systemic approach. What Works aims to enhance the availability, understanding and use of data and evidence for everyone in this sector. It supports professional development and quality in prevention and early intervention services. What Works is about equipping those working with children and young people to do the right things, at the right time, in the right way.

Recently, this initiative was responsible for the ‘Festival of Learning’ which explored the State’s relationship with prevention and early intervention. Through sessions on championing PEI in Government, strengthening prevention in policy, entrepreneurial thinking in public service settings and the role of AI, we sought to bring new ideas to this sector. Like the What Works initiative as a whole, the Festival was intended to be inviting, approachable and empowering. We want those working in this area to have the space to think deeply about what they offer to children and young people and to build networks across organisations and disciplines.

What Works was designed with the mantra that we need to have trust and respect those who are already working in this area. We wanted to respond to the unmet needs of the sector.

We are building new, powerful tools to assist service planning, such as the Outcomes for Children Data and Information Hub.

We’re continuing to deliver learning opportunities through our partnership with the University of Limerick and have delivered open funding opportunities with the What Works Innovation and Network Support Funds.

And we’ve supported many organisations across Ireland to trial new projects, and build connections with their colleagues.

There is still more work to do, and cementing lasting change will take time. We want to continue to develop this initiative in future years and build even stronger linkages with other policy developments. Importantly, we want prevention and early intervention to be at the core of our work. It should not be treated as additional or surplus to core services, nor should it be treated as a separate policy domain which is considered alone. The evidence is clear that meeting the needs of children, young people and their families means embracing, championing and innovating new prevention and early intervention approaches. I look forward to continuing to engage in this area as Minister and working with many of you to complete this mission.