2,000 children put into State care in 2006

 

ALMOST 2,000 children were admitted into State care in 2006 due to abuse or neglect in their families, according to an unpublished report compiled by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The figures are contained in a national review of child and family services for 2006, which is expected to be published shortly.

The report, seen by The Irish Times, also shows that some 449 children came to the attention of health authorities as being homeless. A total of 41 of these homeless children were under the age of 12.

In total, 5,247 children were in the care of the State by the end of 2006.

This includes children who remained in care from previous years. The number of children deemed to be at risk has been rising steadily in recent years.

Most of the children taken into care were neglected at home, figures show. Others were placed in care because of the inability of their parents to cope, or because of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Despite the vulnerability of such children, the report shows large numbers of children are without allocated social workers and that many child protection teams are under severe strain.

The HSE is required under the Child Care Act (1991) to have an annual report prepared on the adequacy of the child and family support services available across the State. Many social care professionals say the inexorable increase in the number of children being admitted to care in recent years reflects the lack of early intervention and family support for children at risk.

But in a commentary accompanying the figures, the HSE says the focus of child protection services is beginning to shift from emergency care towards more emphasis on preventative measures.

"While it may be perceived to be safer, for instance, to place a child in care than to take the risk of supporting that child at home where there remains an element of risk, albeit slight, some amount of innovation and risk-taking is inherent in choosing among alternative policy and service development directions," according to Hugh Kane, the HSE's assistant national director with responsibility for children's services.

"Risk taking must always be undertaken on the basis of calculating risk and exercising good judgement. Such a shift in emphasis has many implications and will require a rigorous debate."

Figures show the HSE's mid-Leinster region had the lowest rate of admissions into care (12 per 10,000 children), while the southern region had the highest (23 per 10,000). Variations in the admission rates, according to the HSE, depend on factors such as deprivation, staffing levels in child protections and the availability of care places.

A total of 569 individuals came to the attention of health services as separated children seeking asylum.

The majority (329) were reunited with their family, while large numbers were placed in care (214).

A total of 11 children in State care were being cared for in specialised facilities outside the jurisdiction in countries such as Britain, the US and Sweden.

Unlike previous reviews of child and family services compiled by health authorities, the 2006 report does not give a detailed breakdown of how community care areas across the State are performing.

These older reports revealed that child protection teams were not able to respond adequately to hundreds of cases of children at risk due to staff shortages and the under-resourcing of social work teams.

The 2006 report, however, only hints at the pressures facing child protection teams and does not provide figures for the number of cases of children at risk on waiting lists.