Saturday, 15 July 2017

Full Circle (Community Crisis Intervention Service)

It’s odd at times how things come back to the beginning. When I sat down to put this piece together I came to think about my reason for starting the Diary of a Derry Mother blog. My first article published on Jan 12th, 2014 came about because of the anger and frustration I felt over Foyle Search & Rescue & HURT being denied funding for a crisis intervention centre in the city. Funding denied by a politically weighted steering group, but more on that later. 

If you’ve been following any of my blogs you may recall that in my previous article I highlighted the ongoing scenario around a proposed Community Crisis Intervention Service for the city. This article stemmed from attending a meeting of Derry and Strabane District Council’s Health and Community Committee on Thursday 7th July. During the course of this meeting attendees witnessed relevant questions relating to the establishment of a Community Crisis Intervention Service raised by SDLP and Independent Councillors totally disregarded by Council Officers involved in discussions around the proposed service.

At this meeting, it was agreed that Council would initiate an open procurement process to advance the establishment of a Community Crisis Intervention Service in the city. This meeting raised a number of questions, primarily, will this proposed service be sufficiently run on the funds secured? This in line with the need identified by Council via an initial scoping exercise and through the community planning process which found this service to be a ‘priority need.’

In my last blog, I listed quite a few questions. These questions and more were later sent to the following people: Karen McFarland Director of Council’s Health and Community Department. Elisha McCallion MP, a member of the Addiction Task-Force, the Community Crisis Intervention Service working group and subsequent Project Team. I also wrote to Martin Connolly, member of the Addiction Taskforce, Community Crisis Intervention Service working group and Project Team, and Maeve McLaughlin former Sinn Fein MLA and Chair of Stormont Health Committee and Addiction Taskforce member.  

To date the only ‘actual’ response I have received has been from Martin Connolly who advised that I contact the statutory agencies for the answers I required. This was despite his membership in the groups listed above.  Martin also admitted that his vision of the project has ‘not progressed to a successful conclusion.’  I did receive an electronic auto response acknowledgement from Elisha McCallion’s office but no answers to the questions and to date no acknowledgement or response from either Council’s Health and Community Department or Maeve McLaughlin.

After the meeting on July 7th there was a sense of frustration from those attending and local campaigners, however thanks to the efforts of Crisis Intervention Services campaigner Monica McClements I have been able to piece together a picture of some of what is happening.

In a question posed I asked, What is the actual nature of this proposed service and what is considered low threshold in this case?’
In the absence of an answer from Council or the others I put the questions to I have been able to establish that on Thursday April 7th, 2016 Council Officer Michael Gallagher who had been tasked by Council to draw up a related business plan advised the Crisis Intervention Service Working Group that the service would cost in the region of £300,000-400,000. Here he also suggested that consideration be given to a pilot service that would minimise the cost yet deliver an adequate service. This cost was eventually set at £80,000 and now sits at £50,000. £40,000 from Council and £10,000 from the Western Health and Social Care Trust. Now as you read this article I’d like you to bear that £40,000 from Council figure in mind the relevance of this will be explained further down.

On April 18th, 2016 the Crisis Intervention Service Working Group discussed a proposed model of what the weekend CCIS would look like. 

Following this at a meeting on December 16th, 2016 the following was discussed in relation to the business case (financial figures). 

At the same meeting, the possibility of the Addiction Task Force becoming the project board and overseeing the delivery and evaluation of the initial Community Crisis Intervention Pilot Service was discussed. This raises a further question for me, because on May 12th 2015 in the course of a Stormont debate Sinn Fein’s Maeve McLaughlin stated “Over the last year, Sinn Féin has established an Addiction Task Force in the city”. So, the question I have is, with this task-force having been established by Sinn Fein, could the Addiction Task-Force potentially overseeing the pilot service and evaluation have implications for council in terms of political neutrality? This of course would depend on the current membership of the addiction task force board, however I feel the undue influence of a singular political party does need to be addressed in as much that it did when the SIF steering group denied funding for a crisis intervention service 3.5 years ago.

What is a matter of major concern is, that the envisaged pilot service has gone from a proposed time-span of 18 months as discussed on February 7th 2017, to a 12 month period suggested at a meeting on April 14th 2017 and has now been reduced to a six month period. I’m hoping someone can explain the rationale behind cutting this pilot service by one year, but then again getting any substantive information on this has proven difficult.

Another line of questioning put forward related to the evaluation of the pilot service.  ‘Has the University (Ulster University) undertaken to carry out this evaluation free of charge?’ If not, what money has been allocated for this? Or will this expenditure come from the current £50,000 funding budget?

Since then, the information obtained by Monica McClements shows that Professor Siobhan O’Neill from the University of Ulster has secured the funding for the evaluation. So why council officers refused to answer this when asked by Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly at the last meeting is beyond me. As let’s face it it’s hardly a matter of national security.

I also asked ‘How will this service be any different to what is currently on offer? With Foyle Search and Rescue currently offering a Community Crisis Intervention Suicide Prevention Programme.’
Having read the documentation it is very clear that Foyle Search and Rescue in conjunction with HURT will be playing a pivotal role within the Community Crisis Intervention project as out of the agencies invited to give a presentation to Council follow up discussions have centred around Hurt and Foyle Search and Rescue’s business plan proposal. So, if what both organisations have to offer is the closest to the Council’s vision of what this service should be I would ask that outside of the counselling aspect from HURT how will this service be any different from what is currently on offer? And again, what is different from what Foyle Search and Rescue and HURT proposed a number of years ago, to what is being proposed now? Time will tell!

And now for a further question, on March 29th, 2017 the Community Crisis Intervention Service working group proposed that Derry City and Strabane District Council manage the CCIS contract as part of the community planning project. Council official Seamus Donaghey agreed to ‘confirm any risks and liability associated.’  Does this mean that on the basis of Mr Donaghey’s findings Council will manage this contract? Of course I'll not be holding my breath waiting for an answer.

Now if you cast your mind back to the start of this blog I asked you to keep in
Lord Rana
mind the £40,000 figure. In the run up to the City of Culture £80,675.30 was spent on clearing the former Tillie & Henderson factory site at the end of the Craigavon bridge via funds from Council and the DOE. What must be noted is this site was owned by the Multi-millionaire hotel owner Lord Rana, a man whose pockets were surely deep enough for him to clean up his own mess. Yet today the best our ‘Super’ Council can muster for a service described as a priority need and hoped to keep people safe is £40,000 which says it all really.

As explained in my previous blog, I am supportive of this project but believe that things must be done right if this service is to prove beneficial both in the short and long-term. I would go further and clarify that I have the utmost respect for Foyle Search and Rescue and HURT who it would seem from the documentation I have read to be the preferred service providers. In fact, as stated above these organisations were the inspiration behind the setting up of this blog with my first entry an article on how Foyle Search and Rescue in conjunction with HURT were refused £220,000 from the Social Investment fund to establish a facility for people found in crisis at the River Foyle. Had this money have been allocated from the much criticised OFMDFM £80 million slush fund in 2014 then we wouldn’t be sitting here today 19 years on from the Good Friday Agreement reliant on the scrapings of the local government money pot to help save lives.

As the Stormont Assembly continues fail with undeniable dysfunctional grace, legacy issues remain one of the key stumbling blocks. Now whether it’s a case of the orange or green legacy is not something I am privy to, but what I do know is in a report published by the Victims and Survivors Service in 2015 levels of mental illness identified in other post-conflict zones have been lower than in the north. This suggests additional issues may be affecting the rates in the north of Ireland. The report states; “that given the high prevalence and economic impact of mental health problems, it is important to understand other factors and how they interact with conflict exposure to effect mental health”. 

The people of this region were failed in 2014 by the refusal to fund a crisis intervention service and sadly there have been lives lost in those intervening years that may have not been had additional resources such as this proposed service been available.  I just hope in 2017 that a proper Crisis Intervention Service is established, resourced and managed properly and is not just some tokenistic form of appeasement.

The bottom line is that if it’s not done right an opportunity to prevent unnecessary loss of life may be missed.

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