State’s mishandling of child abuse has led to 29 inquiries and 550 recommendations

HSE chief says reports are ‘high in condemnation and low in systemic analysis’

HSE head of child and family services Gordon Jeyes: there has been “no shortage of advice” in the form of investigations over the years. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

HSE head of child and family services Gordon Jeyes: there has been “no shortage of advice” in the form of investigations over the years. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 01:00


A total of 29 inquiries into the State’s handling of child abuse cases over the past two decades have resulted in some 550 separate recommendations, according to research commissioned by the Government.

Despite the volume of proposals, each report or inquiry has produced a “limited response” from authorities, according to a study made by academics at Trinity College Dublin.

The research, due to be published shortly by the Department of Children, was referenced by the HSE’s head of child and family services Gordon Jeyes at a conference in Dublin yesterday.

Among the most high profile of inquiries was the Independent Child Death Report, which examined the deaths of 196 children who had been in contact with child protection services over a 10-year period.


Advice abundant
Mr Jeyes said there had been “no shortage of advice” in the form of investigations over the years.

“The surfeit of recommendations in all of the reports was high in condemnation and low in structural or systemic analysis,” he told the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

In addition, the political and economic background to child protection and welfare services over recent years had been unsettling, he said.

While social work posts had been exempt from a moratorium on public sector recruitment, there were often periods when there was not a sufficient budget to fill the posts available.

Despite these reductions in public spending, he said, the State had embarked on a major process of reform in the area with the creation of the new Child and Family Agency.

This agency, due to be established next year, will take over responsibility for child and family services from the HSE.

Funding shortfall
While there have been increases of more than 20 per cent in the child population and in referrals to social work services in recent years, there has been not been a corresponding increase in funding.

“This risk to the establishment of effective services for children and families [has] been at times overwhelming,” he said.

Challenges faced included introducing changes in both the culture and practice of social work services, quantifying the hidden costs of setting up the new Child and Family Agency and managing increased demand as a consequence of population increase.

Accountability
Mr Jeyes said the new reform programme involved ensuring children’s services were strongly linked to values such as “accountability, consistency and transparency”.

He said there had been significant progress already which was helping social workers to “reclaim their profession and re-establish credibility in court and community.”