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 Header Item Fisheries Protection (Continued)
 Header Item Child Care Reports

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd] I would do so at any time, but I would prefer to meet the Deputies to go through the details by river, by visit or however they want. I will get the facts for them.

Child Care Reports

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I thank the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for attending. As she recalls, she informed me at an Oireachtas committee meeting last July that the audit had been completed and that the report was being prepared, yet the report had been completed three months previously by the consultant, Ms Lynne Peyton. Frustratingly, Ms Peyton discussed the audit's conclusions at a conference in Belfast whereas it took 14 months for the HSE to publish the report.

Since 2005, there have been warnings about inadequate resources and calls for additional social workers in Roscommon to deal with child protection and neglect cases. It was a time of affluence and there appeared to be no shortage of money in some quarters, yet child protection referrals in Roscommon trebled between 2005 and 2009. The case in Waterford was roughly the same. The number of neglect cases increased fourfold, but it was 2010 before additional staff were recruited. At one point, Roscommon was said to be dangerously understaffed. In Castlerea, the staffing arrangement was described as unsafe. Social workers in Roscommon had an average caseload of approximately double the national recommended level at 35 versus 17.5. The National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, threatened to withdraw registration unless staffing issues were addressed.

This situation was reflected to some extent in all three of the areas focused on in the report, showing a historical lack of suitably qualified social work staff and resources. In County Roscommon, 180 children have been on a waiting list for psychological services for two years. Nationally, the report highlighted inadequate provision of protection in the case of one in every five families in the neglect category. In County Roscommon, that figure was seven out of 30 families. Nationally, the audit identified 17 families as having been failed miserably by the State. It is important to remember that the audit only represents a small snapshot of the numbers throughout the country. That it took 20 to 30 referrals from a number of agencies for a social worker to be appointed is a damning indictment of the national services in terms of the level of priority they give to the issue of neglect.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Unfortunately, we once again find ourselves discussing a report on the welfare of children and the inadequacy of the HSE's response. The most recent report cited cases in which up to 30 referrals had been made before the HSE took action. Is the Minister satisfied that a report that was finalised and given to the HSE in April 2012 took 14 months to be published? What happened to the promise of openness and transparency? Anyone listening to "Morning Ireland" yesterday would have had his or her confidence shattered. After five minutes of repeated questioning, a national specialist was unable to give an explanation for the delay in the report's publication.

Why was the report's publication delayed? When was the Minister made aware of the report's findings? I have continually raised the issue of the number of social workers, but the Minister has always maintained that she was satisfied with current levels. Given Ms Catherine Ghent's statement on RTE news yesterday that 17 social workers were looking after 670 cases, does the Minister remain satisfied?

The neglect of children continues to be a major concern despite being a common feature of previous reports, in particular the child death report. Have we learned nothing from these reports? What does it take for neglect to be recognised? HSE reports that clearly do not convey the severity of situations - words such as "dirty" and "unhygienic" do not adequately describe children with lice-ridden hair, beds saturated in urine, dog excrement on living room floors and mouldy food adhered to kitchen counters - are not good enough. It is a sickening and disgusting practice for a modern, progressive society. What immediate actions will the Minister take to renew confidence in a system that clearly continues to be deficient?

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I welcome the publication by the HSE of the report entitled A Review of Practice and Audit of the Management of Cases of Neglect. The report was received by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in May 2013 and was published on the HSE website two weeks ago.

The report follows the publication in October 2010 of the report of the Roscommon child care inquiry, which catalogued a number of concerns arising from the examination of the management of serious neglect in a family known to the HSE's child protection services. The findings of that inquiry raised the concern, as Deputy Naughten well knows, that this might not have been an isolated case and that there might be more widespread practice and governance issues in the management of cases of neglect in Roscommon and throughout the country. That report led to work on a national audit of neglect cases.

From the outset, it was the intention of the HSE that the neglect audit would comprise a number of phases. Therefore, the audit was not simply a one-off exercise, but constituted one element of a wider process to improve practice in respect of such cases throughout the country. For phase 1, which is the report in question, the HSE commissioned the services of Ms Lynne Peyton, an independent consultant in child protection, to complete an initial pilot audit of the Roscommon case. This pilot was extended to two other areas, those being, Waterford and Dublin south-east, was conducted in early 2012 and was worked on subsequent to completion. Since completion, the report has acted as an important working document informing preparations for the second and third parts of the process, namely, the workshops and training for staff and the national audit of neglect files that will follow on from this.

Last August, the attention of HSE social work staff was drawn to the ongoing and systemic impact of neglect as identified in the three audits. I welcome the report, from which we see that, in practice, neglect and the terrible damage that it can do to children has not been sufficiently identified. Given the fact that physical and sexual abuse cases have been responded to quickly, it may be a broader societal issue that neglect has not been taken as seriously. The Roscommon case has sensitised us to the situation, as has this initial audit. We need to do the rest of the work. An implementation plan to address the report's recommendations has been developed. I have details of that plan.

The report is well worth reading in detail, as it identifies improvements, changes in practice and instances of more attention being paid to neglect. It is important that these aspects are recognised. I will provide a number of examples of some of the changes that have occurred. In Roscommon, there have been developments with respect to the implementation of monthly child care meetings chaired by the general manager, a restructuring of social work teams and the streamlining of family support services to include a single point of entry for referrals. This is important. In addition, more than 50 staff in all of the relevant disciplines - Deputy Naughten mentioned psychology - have participated in training on the identification of neglect. One of the points the report repeatedly made was that it was critical for all disciplines - doctors, social workers and public health nurses - to take neglect more seriously than had been the case traditionally and to realise the damage that it does to children.

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