‘Recommendation fatigue’ after child protection reports

Most suggestions in Kilkenny incest inquiry were implemented, report finds

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the report had political implications on how matters should be inquired into in the future.Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the report had political implications on how matters should be inquired into in the future.Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

There is “recommendation fatigue” following a succession of inquiries relating to child protection issues, a new study has found.

Research by Trinity College Dublin academics looked at the recommendations of five high-profile inquiries into child abuse in families between 1993 and 2010, including the Kilkenny incest inquiry, the Monageer inquiry and the Roscommon child abuse case.

Co-author Dr Helen Buckley said the finding of recommendation fatigue may show that “a critical mass has now been reached and the benefits of inquiries have succumbed to the law of diminishing returns”.

“We feel at this point that there have been 550 recommendations in the past 20 years. There has also been a huge amount of change in the past three to five years and you cannot keep changing systems” she said.

“This area is exhausted from change and need to consolidate,” she said.

The research was commissioned by the Department of Children as a result of the Ryan Report and was co-authored by Dr Buckley and Dr Caroline O’Nolan of the School of Social Work and Social Policy.

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The study concluded that most of the recommendations made in the Kilkenny report were implemented.

With more recent reports the study found it was difficult to ascertain whether change occurred because of the recommendations or whether they would have happened anyway due to overall development.

Dr Buckley made a distinction between recommendations being addressed and being implemented. She used the example of a recommendation of child protection guidelines.

While the Children First guidelines were developed in 1999, they were not universally implemented, she said. Implementation takes a huge commitment, is resource intensive and has to fit in with the political tone of the day, she added.

While inquiries, particularly the Kilkenny incest inquiry, had been very useful in changing practice, recommendations in future should be “more focused”, the report found.

“There is no point in a review team making a recommendation for something that the HSE had planned two years ago” Dr Buckley said. Sometimes recommendations were “out of sync” or “too expensive” or “not necessary”, she said.

The study recommends that future inquiries should minimise prescriptive recommendations and focus on “key learning points” which could be disseminated across organisations. It recommends that a consultative approach is taken to develop the recommendations to provide clarity and prevent misinterpretation.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the report had political implications on how matters should be inquired into in future.

Ms Fitzgerald described as “interesting” the report’s finding that because there are more internal guardians such as HIQA (the Health information and Quality Authority) that there “should be less of a need for inquiries”.