Hiqa to ensure child protection standards met


CHILD PROTECTION services will be subject to independent inspection for the first time to ensure they are providing adequate care and protection to vulnerable children.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) will be in charge of ensuring services meet new national standards published yesterday. This follows damning reports that have highlighted failures in child protection and welfare services, including the deaths of children in State care.

The new standards – officially published by Taoiseach Enda Kenny – set out clear requirements for Health Service Executive managers, social workers and other professionals on how to deliver a consistent, high-quality and responsive service for young people at risk. The inspections will begin from November onwards and the first reports into outcomes are likely from early next year.

Tracey Cooper, chief executive of Hiqa, said that for too long the needs of children had not received a sufficiently high priority. However, all children had a right to be safe and have access to appropriate services and support.

“These standards are designed to follow a child’s journey within the child protection system to ensure his or her safety and welfare is being protected,” she said.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Kenny said the move, combined with wider reforms in child and family services, was an opportunity to redefine the State’s commitment to children. “Things would have been so different had children been visible and listened to in the past,” he said.

“For me, for the Minister and the Government, the time has now come to work with every agency to ensure children are visible and listened to and, hopefully in due course, people will enshrine that visibility in the Constitution.”

Mr Kenny confirmed that a referendum to strengthen children’s rights would be held this year. He has asked Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald to work with other interested parties to help draw up a proposed wording and related legislation on adoption.

The key principles behind the new standards, which have legal effect and will apply to all child protection services, include ensuring:

Official guidelines on handling abuse and welfare concerns – known as Children First – are fully implemented;

Children are protected from risk of harm;

Needs and views of children are taken into account;

Effective governance and clear leadership with lines of accountability

The Irish Association of Social Workers welcomed the new standards but warned resource shortages were undermining child protection services. Hiqa will begin gathering evidence and monitoring services later this year. Niall Byrne of Hiqa, said judgments will be “fair and balanced”.