Social workers ‘must not be too cautious’ after Roma cases

Family services chief stresses Ireland has very strict guidelines for removal of children

Speaking at University College Cork HSE national director of children and family services Gordon Jeyes said it was important people did not confuse high-profile cases with the HSE’s day-to-day work protecting children. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Speaking at University College Cork HSE national director of children and family services Gordon Jeyes said it was important people did not confuse high-profile cases with the HSE’s day-to-day work protecting children. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Fri, Oct 25, 2013, 23:32

Social workers need to be careful not to become overly cautious about intervening in families to protect children in the wake of this week’s two cases involving Roma families, the HSE’s national director of children and family services, Gordon Jeyes, has warned.

Mr Jeyes was reluctant to comment on the specifics of cases in west Dublin and the midlands where gardaí removed children from their families following consultation with HSE social workers, but he did warn that such high-profile cases can impact on how social workers do their work.

“I think in these issues there’s always a danger the pendulum swings from too interventionist to too cautious - Ireland operates a very regulated system. We are regulated by Hiqa [Health Information Quality Authority], we are overseen by Ombudsmen and rapporteurs, not to mention scrutiny by the Dáil.

“As well as that of course, there is also the media, but on top of that, the decisions to which you refer are nearly always taken by the courts looking at an objective view of the evidence, including that presented in a consistently standardised form by social workers,” he said.

There was clear, consistent guidance regarding children first “and we need to work in a credible way with our partners to make sure children are safe”, he added. The process by which children are supported “is overseen by the courts, and clear objective decisions are made in that regard”.

“We mustn’t be distracted by these high-profile cases of investigations into a possible crime - we have to continue investigating day-to-day issues where there may be allegations of abuse or neglect, where we must act on the balance of probabilities in the child’s best interest.”

Speaking at University College Cork where he was due to participate in a conference entitled New Rights, New Systems: Are Children Any Safer?, Mr Jeyes said it was important people did not confuse high-profile cases with the HSE’s day-to-day work protecting children.

Asked about comments by chairperson of Roma Support Group Ireland, Gina Iordan, that she believed the involvement of gardaí and the HSE in both Roma cases was based on racial prejudice, Mr Jeyes said he would await reviews of both agencies’ involvement.

“It’s far too early for me to comment on that, but we’ve always got to look, day-to-day, at our own attitudes to make sure that they have an objective basis... We need to look at the detail of our day-to-day activity to support people from different cultures,” he said.

He equally was reluctant to comment on an assertion by Ms Iordan that it appeared that in both the Dublin and midlands cases, removal of children from their families appeared to be a first rather than a last resort, but he did stress the power to remove children was important.

“I am not going to respond to particular issues - this was a Garda action, and I am quite sure that the guards acted in good faith and the commissioner has asked for the facts to be included in the report, and I certainly want to know what consultation took place.

“I see no advantage in me commenting ahead of the reports and we are well under way to set out what we call an illuminative from the time the issue was identified, what exactly happened, who spoke to whom, what information was made available and in what order.”

However, Mr Jeyes stressed the benefits of having Section 12 of the Child Care Act on the statute book allowing a garda to remove a child from a particular situation if they believe there is an immediate or serious risk to the child’s health or welfare.

Asked about media coverage of the two Roma cases, Mr Jeyes said it was important that at times of recession, the media would guard against “any notion of scapegoating” any group. He believed this issue should be a matter of concern to every person in Ireland.