"Childhood can’t wait. We need to make changes for children and young people now", Pauline Leeson

Interview with Pauline Leeson, CBE - Chief Executive of Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) and Board Member of Eurochild

1.Tell us about your background, what brought you into children’s rights sector?

I am a social worker and I have been with CINI since 2008. I have worked with both statutory authorities and NGOs in child protection, residential work, fostering and family support but my work with the single homeless and Irish Travellers highlighted for me the importance of children’s rights and social justice.


 2.Can you explain briefly what role CiNI plays in Northern Ireland? 

CiNI is a national network with 160 members. We believe in putting children at the centre of decision making and policy making. We are a representative organisation advocating for children’s rights through policy, information, training and participation. We build capacity in the children’s sector through a regional learning and development programme and we work closely with our politicians through the All Party Group for Children and Young People which we service in the local Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Collaboration is important for us – alliances with other NGOS in our disability, early years and child poverty work have been crucial in influencing policy and legislation. We also work closely through the Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership with statutory authorities, particularly in health, to advocate for positive change. It is essential that we identify and work with champions across all sectors for the benefit of children and young people. Everyone can be an advocate for children and it is important that we recognise this potential and work collectively to value children’s lives.


3.What are the achievements of CiNI that you’re most proud of? 

There have been two major achievements in 2015. At a European level the Investing in Children Recommendation provides a framework for us to engage with local governments on child poverty. The UK Alliance produced a conference report which gave us the opportunity to highlight good practice and outline legislation and policy needed to tackle child poverty. We will build on this joint work with Eurochild by hosting a conference in Belfast on Child Poverty in Northern Ireland. Secondly, we are delighted with the recent adoption of the Children Services Cooperation Bill, which was led by the Green Party through a Private Members Bill. It was brought forward with the agreement of all political parties and is a huge achievement in terms of putting a statutory duty in place for public bodies to cooperate to improve outcomes for children joint planning and delivery of services to all children.Children in poverty is a major concern for us here – 21% children in Northern Ireland are living in persistent poverty. With this Bill, we can start to make good practice common practice in terms of integrated working to improve the well-being of children and young people in Northern lreland. The challenge now will be to implement the Bill and monitor its progress in terms of the impact it has on children’s lives.


4.In May, CiNI is organising a Child Poverty Conference. Could you tell me something about the objective of this conference? What do you hope to achieve true it?

CINI is organising a Child Poverty conference in Belfast in May with the Child Poverty Alliance, the Children’s Commisioner and the Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership.  It is funded partly by Eurochild and it looks at the European Commission Investment in Children Recommendation and its practical application in a member state following the UK Alliance conference in Cardiff in 2014. For CINI, in a devolved administration, this conference aims to encourage the development of child poverty strategies at local council level in Northern Ireland. We want to bring policy makers, politicians, children and young people, the community and voluntary sector , academia and business together to share learning and provide evidence which can inform action plans at local level to reduce poverty. This is an opportune time to begin the discussion as community planning is being introduced at a local council level. Also, a new Department for Communities is being set up which will include responsibility for tackling poverty and a new Children and Young People’s strategy is being developed with the benefit of the underpinning legislation of the Childrens Co-operation Services Bill and its requirement for public bodies to work together to improve outcomes and the well-being of children and young people.


5. According to you, what role can the EU play in the area of child protection and children’s rights at the local level?

Eurochild has played a significant part in placing child poverty and well-being firmly in a children’s rights framework which has been hugely influential in perceiving children as individuals with the right to be valued, to be treated fairly and to flourish. Eurochild has also been the catalyst at European level for collective action for children’s organisations to bring their experience, their voice and concerns about social inclusion to a wider stage where decisions are taken which will influence national government policies on issues affecting children, young people and their families. 


6.What do you think the EU role plays more in general?

The EU can share knowledge, evidence, expertise and give support. I think it is very important that they issue directives that help and guide national governments to look at issues such as child protection. In the UK there is a big challenge and debate around physical punishment, as the defense of reasonable chastisement at home has not yet been removed from legislation. I like the work the Council of Europe has done in terms of guidance and the practical materials they produced for children and parents. On a legislative basis, the role of the EU is also to put some pressure on national governments to look at issues like child trafficking, bullying particularly online safety which does not recognise any national barriers.  


7. How do you see the role of networks like Eurochild? 

Eurochild, like CINI, is a representative organisation. It is our job to provide a voice for our member organisations but also for children and young people. I am very proud of the recent messaging of Eurochild on refugees and migrants. It is a challenging time for Europe but we must retain our humanity. What makes us unique is that we challenge inequality, we advocate and influence for positive and lasting change and we develop networks to share knowledge and collectively achieve positive change for all children and young people. Childhood can’t wait. We need to make changes for children and young people now


8. You are a Eurochild Management Board member. How does this role add value to (or change your perspective on) your work at the national level in Northern Ireland? And what would you say to anyone considering nominating themselves for the new Management Board this year?

From my experience as a Board member I have had the opportunity to observe closely how the European Commission works. That has been helpful in terms of translating the learning to a national level through our network. It also made me more conscious of the valuable role of our MEPs. I am very proud of Eurochild’s contribution to the setting up of the Inter Group on children and the success of the Recommendation on Investing in Children which will have significant implications at policy level in member states.

Being a board member of Eurochild is an exciting opportunity! I have had a wonderful experience working closely with Jana and her exceptional staff team. I have also enjoyed and benefitted from the wisdom of other Board members. Board members play an important role in Eurochild. You are the voice of members at a strategic level. You are there to support the staff and the organisation. It has been a privilege to serve Eurochild as a Board member and as a national network and I look forward to many years of collaboration and partnership ahead. 


Website of Children in Northern Ireland


We are seeking nominations of members or candidate members for the positions of President, Treasurer and 3 (regular) members of the Management Board. Please read the call here.