Children in care have no social workers


Hundreds of vulnerable children who have been placed in State care still do not have an allocated social worker or a care plan, according to an official review of social services.

The Health Service Executive’s review of child and family services for 2011 shows 454 children in care did not have an allocated social worker.

A further 593 did not have a care plan, while a similar number did not have their plans reviewed. This is breach of the HSE’s statutory obligations under childcare legislation, which require it to ensure all children are provided with social workers or care plans.

While these figures relate to December 2011, the HSE’s latest performance management reports still show significant gaps, though they have been narrowing.

The Review of Adequacy for Child and Family Services 2011 also shows rising pressure on services, with an increase in the number of child protection reports and numbers of children in care.

The number of children in State care rose above 6,000 for the first time, while the number of referrals for suspected child abuse or neglect has increased by 50 per cent since 2006.

The youth population is also rising, although there has been no corresponding increase in resources for child protection services. “This continues to place a substantial demand on limited social work resources”, the report notes.

More resources

“This trend is likely to continue in the future unless more resources are provided for early intervention, to help families before concerns escalate.”

The report also contains some encouraging messages.

For example, the proportion of children in care in the State is lower than in neighbouring jurisdictions such as the North, England, Scotland and Wales.

The HSE’s record for stability of care placements – or the number of different care homes a child has in a year – is also much better than these other jurisdictions.

In addition, there has been a substantial rise over the last three years in the number of young people receiving aftercare support and out-of-hours provision has improved.

Overall, 31,626 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect were made to social services during 2011.

It was the first time on record that child protection reports – which tend to involve suspected abuse – exceeded welfare reports, which typically involve suspected neglect.

A breakdown of the 15,000-plus cases of suspected abuse shows physical abuse was most common, followed by sexual and emotional abuse.

Record number

While the number of children who went on to be admitted into care – almost 2,250 – fell by 5 per cent in 2011, the overall numbers in the care system rose to a record 6,160.

There were major variations in the proportion of children placed in care. The Dublin north central area had the highest rate (159 per 10,000 children), while neighbouring Dublin north had one of the lowest rates (24 per 10,000).

The report does not offer any particular reason for this disparity.