Number of children taken into care up by 300

 

THE NUMBER of children taken into care by the Health Service Executive increased by nearly 300 last year and the economic downturn is said to be partly responsible.

A report presented to a meeting of the HSE earlier this month shows there were 5,694 children in care at the end of November 2009, up from 5,396 in January 2009 – a 5.5 per cent increase.

The report, prepared by the HSE, says its local health offices have attributed the increase to a number of factors including increased public awareness of child protection and welfare issues mainly through the media, which has resulted in increased reporting of cases; the economic downturn which it says is resulting in additional financial hardship for families and cutbacks to household budgets for childcare; and an increase in babies born to mothers addicted to drugs/alcohol in some areas. It said these babies have been taken straight into care.

Furthermore it says there has been an increase in the number of babies of siblings already in care being taken into care where there is no change in the home situation.

Most children in care are in foster care. Of the 5,694 children in care at the end of November last 3,422 were in foster care with families unrelated to them, 1,690 were in foster care with relatives, 388 were in residential care and 194 had other care arrangements.

The majority of the additional children taken into care last year were in the HSE south region where numbers of children in care increased by 134. An extra 85 were also taken into care in the HSE west area. However, overall the west has the lowest number of children in care, accounting for just 20 per cent of the national total.

Meanwhile the report reveals social worker shortages continue to be a problem. It says there has been a slight reduction in the number of foster carers who are supported by an allocated social worker between November 2008 and November 2009, down from 80.5 per cent to 79.6 per cent. This means 86 foster carers who had an allocated social worker in 2008 lost them during 2009. Some of this reduction has been due to the non-replacement of social workers going on maternity leave.

Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy with Barnardos, said the numbers of children in care had been rising in recent years. There was a need for increased family support services to work with families and intervene early before problems became so acute that children have to go into care. In some HSE regions, she said, and particularly in rural areas, good family support services were not available. This was despite the fact that all the research shows early intervention works.

She said there was increased pressure on families as a result of job losses and working hours being cut. “We have seen added strain on families,” she said.

She said children would never be taken into care purely because families were experiencing financial difficulties. “One would be presuming the financial difficulties were leading to other problems that would be impacting on the children, such as marital discord.”