Serious concerns over handling of child abuse and neglect cases
Analysis:While the pitiful circumstances of some children’s lives in Northern Ireland are laid bare in today’s report, there is also a very strong focus on serious concerns raised in the case management reports about how professionals handled the children’s cases.
Physical neglect and emotional neglect of children were substantial issues in most, if not all, of the reports but the overview report states it was evident that neglect was perceived as a “somewhat nebulous concept”.
Many of the children experienced multiple types of neglect and this included abandonment or desertion by their parents, significant neglect of educational or medical needs, and neglect of their emotional or social needs.
Report author Dr John Devaney said: “In some ways it is much easier to deal with a child who has a broken leg or a broken arm and you are able to say that that was because they were hit or pulled by a parent, or where a child has disclosed sexual abuse. “These are very concrete things where parents are able to understand what you are talking about and why you are concerned.
“When we are talking about neglect, we are talking about things such as poor parental mental health, parental substance misuse and domestic violence and quite often adults who are struggling with those sorts of difficulties may not recognise that they are having difficulties themselves, let alone the impact that it is having on their children.”
Another broad theme was a lack of co-ordination between agencies involved in the care of at-risk children.
In one case a large number of professionals were involved with both parents and their children over a 10-year period, including social services; residential care staff; child and adolescent mental health services; AE; GPs; clinical psychologists; paediatricians; the PSNI and a number of voluntary organisations.
However, a lack of co-ordination undermined effective planning and intervention.
In the case of another child, despite a long parental history of mental health issues, alcohol-related problems and psychiatric detention, no comprehensive assessment of the needs of the mother or her family was ever conducted.
In several of the case reviews, a number of the parents themselves had suffered trauma, such as experiencing sexual abuse as children, living with domestic violence and involvement with the criminal justice system, all resulting in “parental inaction, hopelessness, mental illness and ongoing chaos”.
Some of these adult needs were recognised and appropriate counselling offered, but in other cases professionals did not appear to appreciate or understand the impact of these issues on the parenting role.
In several of the reviews, “invisible children” are mentioned.In one report dealing with the death by suicide of a young person, the author identified that professionals had been alerted by older siblings and other relatives to various incidents of physical abuse of the child and their siblings over a four-year period.
In 2008, standardised forms for the recording of contacts with children, families and other professionals across both nursing and social work services were introduced.
The reviewers found evidence of policies and procedures being followed in the majority of instances. However, there were also frequent incidents of established policies and procedures not being followed.