Kevin McCoy, who died on April 29th after a short illness, made a hugely positive impact on the lives of Irish children and vulnerable people through his lifelong commitment to improving social outcomes and protecting those unable to protect themselves.
Born on November 6th, 1940, and having lived all his life in Holywood, Co Down, Kevin attended St Malachy's College Belfast, and then trained in social work at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and the College of Deaf Welfare, London. Later he continued his education while working, and graduated with a degree in economics and social policy from Queen's University Belfast and a master's and doctorate in public policy from the University of Bath.
Kevin's held many social work posts in Co Down, joining the Department of Health and Social Services Northern Ireland as a social work adviser in 1972 and rising to chief inspector of social services in 1989. He led the Social Services Inspectorate with great acumen and he made a positive impact in the provision of social services in the community, including the establishment of Community Trusts and the implementation of the Children (NI) Order 1995. His knowledge, leadership and integrity made him an especially trusted professional advisor to ministers and departments on personal social services and social work and advised them on matters of social policy. On his retirement, the permanent secretary acknowledged not only his professional achievement but his "personal commitment, expertise and professionalism and warm and friendly approach". His legacy also extends to a number of important initiatives and reviews, including a review of residential care for children in Northern Ireland and a review of care in the community. He produced numerous publications and papers on social care and criminal justice issues, including chairing the steering group to establish the NI Social Care Council, as well as contributing to the reform of education and training for social workers. In 1998, his outstanding contribution to public service was recognised when he was awarded a CBE.
After retirement from the Social Services Inspectorate, he continued his vocation to protect the vulnerable in our society, advocating for social justice with increased urgency and vigour. This included providing his expertise on child protection to a wide range of organisations, including the Catholic Church in Ireland. As an adviser to the Catholic Institute for Deaf People in Dublin, he developed their child protection policies and procedures, and more recently as the chair of the board of Áiseanna Tacaíochta, he worked to empower those with disabilities by allowing them to have greater independence in their lives.
He also undertook projects in Russia, Latvia, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, helping to improve social care and community services in those countries.
In 2001, the Irish government appointed him as a commissioner for the Inquiry into Child Abuse and in more recent years he undertook many investigations for both the HSE and the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. Kevin’s work chairing the Áras Attracta Swinford Review Group identified a number of key initiatives for the HSE to take in the wider disability sector to support a rights-based social model of service delivery and he is credited with laying the foundations for a “brighter, safer and more inclusive world for the intellectually disabled in residential care” in Ireland.
Over the years his approach to leading numerous challenging and at times harrowing investigations into cases of child abuse earned him huge respect from everyone who had the privilege of working with him.
He was widely recognised as being a kind, humble man known for his determination to do justice for victims of abuse, as a champion for those in residential care and a leader of improvements to child protection.
All who worked alongside him will miss him greatly.
His own family meant the world to him, and he was unwavering in his support for his surviving wife Patricia to forge her own career as a physiotherapist. Kevin was immensely proud of his three children, Claire, Fiona and Damien, and in their formative years took great joy in taking long summer holidays venturing across Europe with them and all the camping gear packed into the car. More recently, he and Patricia travelled extensively, and when at home Kevin enjoyed spending time with all of his seven grandchildren.
Over the years, he had many pastimes, playing Gaelic football in his youth, enjoying a game of squash and playing golf with his friends, with one of his proudest achievements was winning the captain’s prize in Holywood Golf Club in 1994. Over many years he found time to volunteer with the local St Vincent de Paul, serving on the regional council and was also involved with the parish youth club, local scouts, and St Paul’s GAA.
Kevin was deeply loved and is sorely missed. His was a life well lived.