Baby boom poses challenge for child protection and welfare services
Referrals of suspected child abuse or neglect almost doubled since 2006
A baby boom in recent years is putting increased strain on child-protection services, with a doubling in the number of abuse or neglect concerns reported to Irish social services.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday that extra resources would be required to ensure child and family services could meet demands.
Speaking at an International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect conference in Dublin, Ms Fitzgerald said the number of children has increased 13 per cent since the 2006 census.
This increase includes a significant rise in the number of Traveller children (up 30 per cent), foreign national children (up 49 per cent) and children of lone-parents (up 10 per cent).
During the same period, the number of child-protection and welfare concerns reported to authorities has increased, up from 21,000 in 2006 to 40,000 last year.
Experts say the rising population, along with greater awareness of child abuse or neglect, are key factors behind the increase in referrals.
The number is likely to keep rising over the coming years as a result of new mandatory reporting laws which make it a crime to fail to pass on information regarding suspected abuse or neglect.
Ms Fitzgerald said sufficient resources would be needed to ensure services were able to meet the needs of vulnerable children. “There is serious pressure, there’s no doubt about that. I believe referrals have been increasing because of the kind of discussion we’ve been having over child abuse, because of new Children First guidelines. That’s a good thing. If children are being abused, I want them to be referred.”
In addition to extra resources, Ms Fitzgerald said reforms to the way child-protection concerns were handled would be required along with increased co-operation between agencies. “We have, for too long, built walls between services and let children fall between the gaps in between.”
The national code on dealing with child-protection concerns, Children First, is due to be placed on a statutory footing next year, creating a legal duty for adults who work with children to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect. This means that teachers, for example, could face sanctions for failing to report concerns.
In a research paper presented at the conference, Dr Catherine Maunsell and Dr Ashling Bourke examined the impact of mandatory reporting on teacher training and education.
They found that while teachers were ideally placed to identify possible signs of abuse, adequate training was vital in helping teachers to identify and refer concerns.