Barnardos to close its campaigning department

Changes, redundancies necessary due to gaps in State funding – chief executive

Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly: ‘We will continue to lobby to ensure that vulnerable children receive the services they need.’

Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly: ‘We will continue to lobby to ensure that vulnerable children receive the services they need.’

 

Children’s charity Barnardos, which has advocated for children’s rights for more than a decade, is closing its campaigning department causing “shock and dismay” among staff.

A circular sent to the organisation’s 300 employees last month said: “Barnardos will no longer take an ‘all children’ focused political mobilisation approach in our advocacy work”, shifting its focus to services and particularly to a “new trauma informed approach . . . to working with vulnerable children”.

“Barnardos new chief executive Suzanne Connolly wants to bring her understanding of the effects of trauma on brain development and the structural impact of toxic stress on the brain to highlight the significant impact on children’s bodily reactions, thoughts, emotions and ability to interact with others.

“Research and innovation will be key to our sustainability and to delivering on our strategy.”

The circular says Barnardos will “continue to influence the political and public policy agenda . . . by demonstrating the quality of our work”.

Staff were advised that three of the four campaigns and advocacy posts were “at risk of redundancy” – the head of advocacy, advocacy officer and campaigns officer. All three staff members have now been made redundant following a consultation process.

Funding issues are contributing to the charity’s stepback from public advocacy work, according to the circular. Between 2004 and 2013, it received about €8 million from the One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies with a proviso that it expand its advocacy and political work.

Government funding cuts in 2009 have not been restored, while costs have increased, says the circular.

Barnardos, founded in London in 1870, established a presence in Ireland in the 1960s. It provides services now to about 15,000 children a year in families and schools in more than 40 disadvantaged areas across the State.

Ms Connolly, the organisation’s former head of services, was appointed chief executive in October following the retirement of Fergus Finlay.

Mr Finlay had spearheaded campaigns on child poverty, educational disadvantage, child homelessness and child protection during his 13 years at the helm.

The charity has been a go-to voice for media on children’s rights issues. It has published annual costings of the price of sending a child to school, advocating free school-books for all primary school children. Last year it mounted its “Lost” on child poverty.

Shock

A number of employees, who did not want to be named, said the circular had come as a “shock”. One said they were “disappointed we are no longer going to be a voice to challenge Government”.

“It has been greeted with shock and dismay,” said another who raised concerns about the organisation’s fundraising capacity if its ‘brand’ became less visible.

The highly regarded learning and development section, which has provided training on child welfare to statutory and community organisations, is to be scaled back while the large headquarters in Dublin city centre may be sold.

“We are going to investigate selling Christchurch Square this year with a plan of splitting the teams based there and moving them to other locations . . . we plan to have an update in July,” says the circular.

Ms Connolly, asked about the changes, said redundancies had been necessary due to gaps in State funding.

“We have prioritised continuation of services to children and families using our voluntary funds . . . and we have made no direct cuts in this area.

“If we had no financial challenges we would not be making the positions in the advocacy and the learning and development functions redundant.

“We will continue to lobby to ensure that vulnerable children receive the services they need.”