Key measures to enshrine equality in law and tackle child poverty in Northern Ireland have been insufficiently developed, it has been claimed.
The Executive missed opportunities to improve the lives of young people in Northern Ireland, with those with disabilities particularly affected, a lobby group representing dozens of voluntary groups added.
A report from the Children in Northern Ireland organisation said: “The benefits to investing early in a child’s life are well-documented and endure for a lifetime.”
These include higher levels of achievement in school and greater productivity as adults, but also better social and emotional functioning and more positive engagement with society.
The document claimed chances were lost for children because key strategies were insufficiently developed, implemented or integrated across Government, or failed to adhere to obligations outlined in law.
These included Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act which promotes equality of opportunity, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a convention on disability rights, and targets set by child poverty legislation.
Examples include the disparity between education boards in the attainment of deaf children, with the Northern Board providing more specialist teachers than other areas and seeing an increase in the proportion achieving five good GCSEs.
A third of admissions to Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre come from a care background, even though they account for less than 1% of the total population of children. The report said this revealed a disproportionate use of custody on these children.
It added: “The timeline of a child’s life means that occasions for intervention are short and the consequences of absent, poorly coordinated or inadequate policies can be significant.”
Children in Northern Ireland, which represents 155 member organisations like Save the Children, called for a revised approach to government policy, budgeting and spending to ensure the essential needs of children are protected at a time of diminished resources.
A launch event will be hosted at Stormont today.
The chief executive of the group, Pauline Leeson, said: “We must continue to ensure that policy development and implementation processes are collaborative, efficient, productive and focused on best outcomes and to progress policies which are developed and delivered.”
OFMDFM junior ministers have launched a programme for affordable and integrated children’s care.
The early actions include a focus on enhancing the capacity of the school-age childcare sector by 6,000 registered spaces with a particular focus on social need, increasing rural provision and meeting the needs of children with disabilities.
As part of its Programme for Government, the Executive has promised to tackle social exclusion and poverty.