Government report to propose sweeping changes to child protection system

Scale of proposed reform suggest existing laws are not longer fit for purpose

Special rapporteur on child protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon: Sweeping reforms are needed following controversies such as the removal of two Roma children from their homes last year

Special rapporteur on child protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon: Sweeping reforms are needed following controversies such as the removal of two Roma children from their homes last year

 

A Government report is to recommend a major overhaul of the child protection system to help prevent vulnerable children from being failed by the State.

The advisory report by the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, says sweeping reforms are needed following controversies such as the removal of two Roma children from their homes last year.

In all, it contains more than 50 proposed changes to our childcare laws, raising questions about whether our existing structures are fit for purpose. The measures include: n

A new emphasis on preventing children being admitted into State care unnecessarily through a new emphasis on “supervision orders” for parents

nAmending legislation to ensure specialised supports are in place earlier to meet the needs of high-risk families and prevent crisis cases emerging

nIntroducing a legal right to counselling and support for children with mental health problems

nMajor reforms to the direct provision system to ensure young asylum seekers do not spend longer than six months in communal accommodation.

The proposals come at a time when campaigners say frontline services and child protection staff are operating against a backdrop of scarce resources, staff shortages and dangerously heavy caseloads. More than 9,000 cases of abuse, neglect or welfare concerns over children at risk were waiting to be allocated a social worker. More than 3,000 of these cases are classified as “high priority”.

Acute concern

The report says judicial scrutiny is required to help ensure supports are available to children living in homeless families. It also addresses areas such as the growing demand for help among young people with mental health problems.

A legal right to support is proposed, as are reforms to allow children aged 16 or more to seek counselling without the need for parental consent. At present, hundreds of children often wait long periods of time to get assessments for suspected mental health problems.

Social services, too, find they are unable to get speedy access to these kinds of services for young people.

Much of Dr Shannon’s report focuses on the need for changes to the direct provision system for asylum seekers given its impact on children. In all, more than 1,600 young people are growing up in the system. The report says these children should be moved out of often unsuitable, communal accommodation after a six-month period into more appropriate and family friendly settings.