Assembly hears of social care challenges

22.6.2023 | Mission News, Social Witness, General Assembly, Church in Society

On its first full day of business, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has heard the challenges faced by staff and management as it seeks to provide social care across its various services. Compounded by the cost of living crisis, members also heard how the Council is seeking to address them.

Working in partnership with many different organisations, the PCI plays a key role in ministering to the physical and social needs of people – just as it has done since the foundation of the Presbyterian Orphan and Children’s Society in 1866. Today, with an operational budget of around £10 million, the Church, through the Council for Social Witness (CSW), PCI’s social care arm, manages the denomination’s day-to-day provision of residential, nursing, supported housing, respite and day care, along with a number of community-based programmes.

Across 15 locations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, these services support older people, people with disabilities, those with substance issues and people who have been involved with criminal justice. The Council provides 373 bed spaces supported by 420 staff.  

With the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney in the chair, the Convener of the Council for Social Witness, Rev David Brice said, “In last year’s report I described it as a year of generational change, of upgrading systems and embracing the regulatory realities of work in the very regulated care sector. This in turn brought very many challenges for all of our 420 staff, and if that wasn’t enough the wind of change met also the cold winds of the cost of living crisis and the downtown in staff recruitment following Brexit. We thank managers and staff for facing these challenges; we are in a better place because of their endeavours and acceptance of change...”

Mr Brice continued, “When faced with challenge upon challenge you are confronted with the question, “why do we do this?’ We do it because it matters. We do it because the people we care for and enable, matter. We do it because Jesus painted a different picture of the world in His Sermon on the Mount, we do it because…the gospel produces hope and love.

“When faced with a crisis of care, and we have had those, we can shrink to cynicism under its weight, or we can grow in grace because we choose to live in the presence of God who sees and is pleased with what we do as we practise what we preach. This is what Jesus meant when He said, Matthew 7:24 ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ It is my prayer that every staff member finds hope and help in these words, the weight is too heavy to carry alone,” he said.

The General Assembly brings together ministers, elders and others from the church’s 500-plus congregations, alongside a number of partner churches and organisations from home and overseas. Until it closes on Saturday afternoon, it will discuss a range of church related and societal issues ranging from the theological to the political, areas of ministry to the missional.

Having thanked and paid tribute to all CSW staff in all areas of its work, Mr Brice said, “In all the progress that has been made, one person has been key and that is Dermot Parsons, our Director of Social Witness, in short he has been disciplining us all to apply the Christian virtues of compassion and integrity and to link task and character.”

In a resolution passed by the General Assembly, it commended ‘managers and staff for their commitment to achieving excellence in care for residents, service users and relatives throughout the challenging 2022–23 year.’

In his speech, Dermot Parsons also referenced the challenges faced by the care sector and PCI in particular. “This has been a challenging year, where the team has made strong progress…Our senior team have tackled long-standing problems – we are not immune to pandemic impact, sector-wide staffing problems, hospital pressures and the surging cost of living for services and staff alike. Some challenges were deeply personal for us and, as a group, we have prayed that these times will pass…Persistence has been vital,” he said.

Mr Parsons said that managers had established new work approaches ensuring that both residents and tenants “are better and more effectively cared for now than a year ago” with managers having led the wider team to establish new quality arrangements in services. Recognising the volatility in social care, the Council has also adopted, what he described as a “realistic business plan for 2023” and a range of financial performance measures.

“In prayer and practice, with the valuable oversight of our Convener Rev David Brice, our management team is focused on servant leadership. If we are to show that people matter to God, those people being our service users, staff and those in congregations, we will only achieve that through humility,” Mr Parsons said.

In a separate resolution, the General Assembly also welcomed the Council’s “

to ensure that the Christian ethos of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is evident in all its services and activities.”

The General Assembly is livestreamed on here on this website. All public sessions will be livestreamed until the Assembly’s close on Saturday, 24 June. You will find the business before the Assembly here and the Reports that will be discussed here. You can  follow proceedings live via Twitter @pciassembly using the hashtag #PCIGA23.

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