Zappone to open specialist child support centres
Minister wants to bring different agencies dealing with child abuse under one roof
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone: said children who have experienced abuse should not have to go through the trauma of telling their story over and over again to different agencies, principally the Garda and Tusla. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Specialist centres where children can disclose abuse to teams of gardaí, social workers, health professionals and lawyers working together under one roof are to be opened by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.
Ms Zappone has said the current model under which different agencies, principally the Garda Síochána and child-support service Tusla, deal independently with complaints of sexual and physical abuse by children, does not work. It leads to further trauma for children who have experienced abuse when having to tell their story over and over again to different agencies, she said.
The Minister believes that the system is too fragmented and that the services have been provided “in a less planned and systematic way than was good for the kids”.
Ms Zappone said she wanted to introduce a model where all the specialists that deal with child abuse are co-located in one centre.
She led a delegation of officials from the relevant agencies to New York in late October, where they visited a child advocacy centre in the Bronx. The delegation included the State’s special rapporteur on child protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon.
They saw social workers, lawyers, the police department and health professionals “working in the same place in a child-friendly environment”.
More recently, Ms Zappone visited the Rowan Centre in Co Antrim, which is the sexual assault referral centre for Northern Ireland. While this centre caters for adults, as well as children, who allege sexual assault, the principle is the same, with a multidisciplinary team providing support.
In the New Year, Ms Zappone will visit a similar centre in Oxford with a view to setting up similar centres in Ireland where the Garda, Tusla, health and legal professionals could work together on one site.
“We want to build an Irish model to respond more appropriately. We do not want children to have to go through that, where, over and over again, they have to tell their story,” she said.
“Here, they will be meeting the people who work together from different disciplines.
“They share their empathy and commitment and healing energy for the children,” she said.
Dr Shannon has previously pointed out this model provided significantly higher rates of co-ordinated investigations and increased successful prosecution of child abuse perpetrators.