Fresh hopes for better child protection services
OPINION:The proposed child and family support agency will provide long-awaited and much improved services
LAST FRIDAY, the publication by Minister Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald of the report of the taskforce to establish the new child and family support agency marked a much under-reported watershed moment for children in Ireland.
At long last it offers hope that past mistakes by professionals in the protection of vulnerable children will not happen again. Sadly, and as we know with horrific consequences, it has taken 20 years since the Kilkenny incest case report of inquiry, led by Catherine McGuinness, recommended that those who have responsibility for the support and safeguarding of children be brought together under “one roof”.
This will now happen with the establishment of this agency.
However, despite the best intentions of the authors of the report (I being one of them), this new agency will only work if four basic conditions are put in place.
This is outside of the obvious need for more resources to fund services. Financial investment in the Irish childcare system is not a silver bullet and, in itself, will not solve the problem.
Firstly, we raise our children not just for our families but also for our communities and society as valued citizens. The protection of children has to be viewed as a community concern and not just that of social workers. All of us have to think more on the part we can play both in supporting and, where needed, safeguarding all our children.
Similarly, the needs and interest of vulnerable children and youth are not just the responsibility of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and there has to be joined up thinking by all governmental departments that impact on the lives of children. The role of the Department of Education is particularly noteworthy in this regard.
Secondly, if the agency is to work, failure by professionals to safeguard and support and “put children first” is no longer tolerable.
Since the Kilkenny incest report and right up to the recent report by Dr Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons into the deaths of children in care, there has been a consistent call for better co-operation between professionals including teachers and child and adolescent mental health services, and consistently it has been ignored.
Under the new agency there should be no more excuses and professional collaboration should not be seen as a lucky bonus for any child but a guarantee for him or her.
Where there is blatant failure or inaction, those responsible will have to be held responsible.
Thirdly, there is an urgent need for an enhanced street work service to be created that works directly on the street out of hours with vulnerable youth, particularly in parts of inner city Dublin.