Violence, dirt and drink: How the system failed four children

Geoffrey Shannon’s child-protection audit detailed dozens of cases, including these four

At risk: in one case recorded on the Garda’s Pulse computer system a girl was released back into the care of the older brother who had assaulted her. Photograph: iStock

At risk: in one case recorded on the Garda’s Pulse computer system a girl was released back into the care of the older brother who had assaulted her. Photograph: iStock


Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on child protection, found evidence of serious failings in the State’s child-protection system when he audited more than 5,400 cases where the Garda had removed children from their families. Here are details from four of the more than 90 cases that his report goes into.

Released into care of brother who assaulted her

A garda received a call from the HSE – now Tusla – asking for help with a child who had been removed from a hospital, according to records from the Garda’s Pulse computer system.

While the girl was waiting for an X-ray in the hospital’s emergency department, her brother – who had previously admitted to social workers that he had assaulted her – took her away.

Gardaí followed his car and saw him go into an apartment. When they called to it they saw the girl behind a curtain in the living room. Her brother was extremely agitated and aggressive towards gardaí, and he initially denied that his sister was in the flat.

It transpired that the living room was also the girl’s bedroom and that she slept on the floor.

Gardaí recorded that the girl was distressed and that her brother was denying her medical treatment. Using their emergency powers, gardaí removed the child, and Tusla took her to safe accommodation. Gardaí reported that social workers would be applying for an emergency care order.

But records showed the child was subsequently returned to her brother and social workers would not confirm whether they had made a court application to keep her in care.

Bruised three-year-old

Creche staff had notified social workers of their concerns about a three-year-old girl they were looking after who had bruises and handprints on her body.

Social workers called gardaí, and medical advice confirmed it was likely the marks were the result of violence. Pulse records show gardaí invoked their emergency powers to remove the child to safety on the request of social workers.

The garda report also said the incident had occurred on a Friday evening after 6pm and that social workers would attend court on Monday to apply for an emergency care order.

But later entries recorded on the Pulse system appeared to show the child was returned home that Monday, after social workers held a case conference.

Soiled nappies and excrement

Gardaí took a child into emergency care after an anonymous 999 call.

When gardaí went to the girl’s apartment, they knocked on the door for several minutes before a man let them in.

The apartment was littered with rubbish, and soiled nappies and excrement were all over the floor. There was broken furniture everywhere, and the beds had no bedding.

The girl, who was almost four, was running around in a soiled nappy with dried excrement on her clothes. Despite her age she was unable to speak.

The man appeared agitated and complained of a sore hand, gardaí reported. When they asked how he hurt it he said he had punched a wall in the apartment a few days earlier.

Gardaí had serious concerns about the child’s welfare and removed her.

Intoxicated parents

A garda discovered a child in a house with her aunts and an uncle. There was blood on the floor and signs of drinking.

The child looked neglected, the garda reported; she needed a bath and was wearing a very soggy soiled nappy. The garda knew a care plan was in place for her. The plan had been agreed only that morning, between a social worker and the child’s parents. But the parents had failed to stick to the plan and had evaded social workers.

The child’s home was described as filthy; there was a lack of food, and both parents were intoxicated.

Gardaí reported that the family members caring for the child – the aunts and uncle – were aware of the care plan but had participated in an effort to frustrate the social workers and were evasive about the whereabouts of the parents.

The report also said the mother had gone to an emergency department with injuries she said were caused by her husband, but she told gardaí she fell. The child was taken into emergency care.