Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is to write to Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust expressing its concerns following confirmation that a Craigavon based counselling service for children who have suffered sexual abuse is to close.
Face to face services for vulnerable children at the NSPCC’s premises in Carn Industrial Estate will close at the end of October.
At present, the service helps children and young people, aged four to 17 and their parents and carers deal with the impact of sexual abuse.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of Council’s leisure and community services committee on Monday, October 11.
Speaking at the meeting, DUP councillor Margaret Tinsley noted that at September’s meeting of the ABC Sports Forum, Council’s health improvement officer discussed an NSPCC campaign aimed at encouraging parents, carers and professionals to speak to children about keeping safe from sexual abuse.
The report also notes that Council’s health improvement officer is available to provide training at clubs throughout the borough and Cllr Tinsley enquired as to what advice they would now be offering.
“I would just like it clarified as to what advice the officer can give now the NSPCC has announced it is to close its resource in Craigavon,” said Cllr Tinsley.
“I am aware of a number of people that attended another child protection training programme in the last few weeks.
“They asked ‘where do we send children that come forward and say to us we have experienced sexual abuse’ and normally the advice would be to contact the local NSPCC.
“However, the officer delivering the training could not tell them what to do. I am very mindful of that and I wanted to clarify what advice we are going to give to these clubs. What should they do in that instance.”
Acknowledging this is a “really relevant question” the committee’s chair, Councillor Keith Haughian, asked Council’s sports development manager, Gillian Dewart to provide an answer.
Ms Dewart said the details were not in front of her but she was more than happy to follow up with Cllr Tinsley at a later date. In response, Cllr Tinsley asked that all councillors were made aware of this answer.
“I will not be the only individual who will be contacted about that, it is a huge loss to the area,” said Cllr Tinsley.
Sinn Fein councillor Catherine Nelson said she shared Cllr Tinsley’s concerns and noted the service is not being centralised, it is simply being removed.
Cllr Nelson called on Council to meet with with a community interest group, made up of therapeutic therapists who are determined to offer a similar service to the young people of the area.
“To their credit a few of the staff have decided they won’t sit back and allow this service to be removed,” said Cllr Nelson.
“They are trying to set up as a community interest group and I would ask that officers would perhaps meet this new group – STAR NI and look at how we might support and assist this service.
“If we look at our targets around this, if this service is not available, we actually fail to meet those targets so I would really appreciate and propose that our community development team seek a meeting with STAR NI.”
Independent councillor, Darryn Causby said he was of the understanding the decision to remove this service was taken “at a health trust level” and that having spoken to some of the therapeutic social workers involved “there is deep concern” about the impact this loss will have on young people in the borough.
“As a Council I think we should be rowing in to express our concern at the loss of the service,” said Cllr Causby.
“We know that particularly with children, or young people who experience child sexual exploitation in any forum, it is traumatic and the services they get are to vital to help with their journey in dealing with that.
“Losing such a vital service is, in my view, detrimental to the care those young people should receive from our society and our health care system.
“I would be keen we express our concern to the Health and Social Care Trust on that issue and would ask that we also write to the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust expressing concern at the loss of that service.”
The committee’s Chair, Councillor Keith Haughian asked if there was a way to tie these requests together so the committee could unite around one proposal on the matter.
Councillor Tinsley indicated she would be happy to support the proposals put forward by Councillors Nelson and Causby as “we are all saying the same thing”.
Councillor Nelson said she was happy to incorporate it all and that if the proposal needed a proposer or seconder she was sure there would be no fight over it as “the end goal is all the same”.
It was then proposed by Cllr Nelson that Council writes a letter to the Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust experessing its concerns at the loss of this service and that council officers meet with STAR NI to discuss a way forward.
This proposal was then seconded by Councillor Darryn Causby and the chamber voiced its approval.