by Alexandra Chapman

Dr Alexandra Chapman is one of the academic leads for the Citizens’ Assembly

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland has been tasked with examining social care for older people and providing recommendations for future provision. This could not come at a more appropriate time as the need and urgency to reform adult social care services has been identified. However, little progress has been made and currently, there are few strategies dedicated specifically to adult social care in Northern Ireland.

As part of an academic team led by Professor Ann Marie Gray from Ulster University, my role was to provide impartial evidence on social care to support discussion and deliberation between citizens. In this role I presented an overview of what social care is and why it is an important issue and offered the participants an overview of the key issues and debates to consider. A second presentation on how social care is currently provided informed Citizens’ Assembly members of the different types of social care available, how it can be accessed and who can provide it. Finally, the third presentation of the weekend by the academic team explained the system of social care delivery in Northern Ireland, demonstrating the complex and fragmented structure that is currently in place.

Later in the day the social care system was brought to life by users of social care, Martin and Robert, who both shared very personal experiences of how the system delivers and works in practice.

Citizens also heard from experts who work in different parts of the social care sector, providing citizens with knowledge and evidence on current social care provision for older people.   

Speaking with some participants, it was great to see how engaged and enthused they were to take part in such as important process and there was a strong sense of a “can do” attitude among participants. A few told me of their own experiences and interaction with adult social care services, which were not always positive. Some participants asked further questions about certain aspects of adult social care, wanting to get to the root of specific issues. Overall however weekend 1 ended on a positive note with a shared understanding that the current system is not fit-for-purpose.

Citizens’ Assembly members adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude when dealing with the issues

The role of the academic team over the second weekend is to provide further information on particular social care for older people issues identified by citizens that they feel to be most important in helping them to reach decisions and recommendations for future provision.

We look forward to another challenging weekend – but one where citizens use the opportunity they have to engage respectfully with one another, deliberate and have their voices heard on the future social care system in Northern Ireland.