Sent: Monday, May 17, 2004 1:29 PM

Subject: Re: Follow-up to Visit



Dear Clive, Richard, and Pat,


On behalf of Dr. Bob Conyne, the Children of Ireland, and Friendship Without Borders, I would like to thank you once again for your generous hospitality during our recent visit to Northern Ireland.  Our dinner at the Castle included both marvelous food and productive and interesting conversation.  We wanted to also know that we greatly appreciated the full and meaningful schedule that the Trust put together for us that included important meetings with community partners and organizations.  The schedule of events provided us with a broad perspective about the alarming rates of youth suicide and the multifaceted related issues specific to Northern Ireland that have bearing on this disturbing problem. 


We were impressed with the number of excellent services being provided by programs in partnership with the Trust.  We also thought it might be of interest for you to hear directly from us about some of our reflections and observations about why this problem continues, and some thoughts about possible next steps.  Thus we would like to share with you some of the highlights from our trip.


First, we want to underscore the positive working relationships between the Trust and its partner organizations as well as the community-based philosophy that seems to guide funding, programming, and operations.  This community-based approach seems to be very appropriate to social services and mental health services within the context of the Trust’s area of service and in particular with regard to youth suicide.  Yet, even so, rates of youth suicide in Northern Ireland remain very high as compared to other countries around the world.  Therefore, despite the good community programs and services being offered, it is our observation that some changes in service delivery would be helpful in guiding future services and addressing the critical needs inherent in the high youth suicide rates.  Thus some of our observations are as follows:


·        Youth suicide programs are linked to the many associated issues particular to Northern Ireland that cause the higher rates of youth suicide as compared globally to other countries.


·        Prevention programs must have a greater emphasis in funding and delivery.  Current programming focuses overwhelmingly on intervention and crises.


·        Facilitate inter-agency coordination in programming.  A number of agencies appear to be duplicating the work of other organizations given their lack of knowledge and information about already developed effective programs and practices. 


·        Develop a protocol for sharing Best Practices that address youth suicide prevention and intervention programs.  Many programs have developed excellent intervention programs that remain “program-bound.”  Through a website, manual, meetings, etc., it would be helpful for agencies to learn about effective programming in other areas, including across sectarian boundaries.


·        Strengthen university counselling and social work programs linkage with the actual work in the community.  Repeatedly agency personnel spoke about the lack of preparedness in their university training for the work as a counsellor or social worker in the field.  This might be done through higher level meetings to redefine university coursework, curricula, training, and policy discussions that determine licensure requirements in specific professional disciplines. 


·        Create baseline research within organizations to determine the problem of suicide.  This would involve simple research protocol with minimal paperwork and record keeping that would be conducive to “untrained” researchers, or community workers, collecting and recording data. It would be helpful to have records about suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, and completed suicides that would help in better understanding youth suicide.  Research design must keep in mind that the limited scope of training for community workers in the health and social services fields. 


·        Expand public awareness campaigns so that there is a continuum of services.  For example, with the very effective “Heads Away” media campaign include phone numbers to call where people can talk about youth suicide, dates and times of follow-up meetings and forums being held within the community to address the greater awareness, etc.


·        Develop a comprehensive youth mentoring program with youth and community leaders helping other youth. 


·        Facilitate more systematic intra-agency dialogue about sectarian issues facing youth, families, and communities. 


·        Facilitate greater cross-community communication between sectarian groups.  Youth suicide is a problem common to all groups in Northern Ireland and could be a significant potential bridge for opening up dialogue.  It is our strong impression that the intra-sectarian and inter-sectarian conflict has great bearing on the high rates of youth suicide and therefore requires critical attention to the reduction of future youth suicides.  It should be noted that cross-community meetings emphasizing youth suicide and the future of youth in Northern Ireland as a common factor is significantly different than the current cross-community work going on in the region.  The focus on youth suicide, social services, and mental health is a very different intervention than the current conflict resolution work and requires mental health/social services professionals highly trained and skilled in group dynamics and group process.



Our belief is that given the excellent core services already existing in the Trust, that there is great opportunity to implement additional services to more effectively address the unique Northern Ireland problem of high youth suicide rates.  We believe there is ample opportunity for collaboration to explore this further with you, and would welcome additional discussion.  From our end, with your permission and support, we would like to explore possible grant opportunities to address these issues and address some of the need areas we identified. 


In addition, we discussed with Bernie and John some suggestions about continued linkage such as future training, further project development, specific project linkages (e.g., the Trauma Center), cross-community interactions, planning an international forum, development of community prevention projects, community group interaction skill training, and cross-community interventions.  We would look forward to hearing from you about future collaboration between the Trust and the Children of Ireland and Friendship with Borders in our common aim to benefit the youth of Ireland. 


Thank you again, for your kindness, wonderful company, and support during our recent visit, and we will look forward to hearing from you in the near future.


Best wishes,


Dr. Fred Bemak

Dr. Robert Conyne


Dr. Fred Bemak
Professor and Program Coordinator
Counseling and Development Program
Graduate School of Education
George Mason University
MSN4B3, 4400 University Drive
Fairfax, Virginia
USA 22030
Fax: 703-993-2013

p.s. Could you please pass this letter on to Pat.  Somehow we don't have his email address.  Thank you.