Report's findings are shocking - but familiar

Our poorly managed child protection system is placing vulnerable children at risk

The findings of the Health Information and Quality Authority’s report – the first into the HSE’s child protection services –  make for disturbing reading

The findings of the Health Information and Quality Authority’s report – the first into the HSE’s child protection services – make for disturbing reading

 

Many of us may have suspected that some frontline child protection services were delivered against the backdrop of an often dysfunctional and occasionally chaotic system.

Now, we know for sure.

The Health Information and Quality Authority’s report – the first into the HSE’s child protection services – shines a light into the world of frontline child protection.

The findings make for disturbing reading.

Social work staff – as is often the case in these reports – come across as a motivated and professional group of people doing a difficult job.

It found, for example, that the standard of social work practice and quality of child protection and welfare assessments were good.

But the damning findings related to the management of the system itself: inspectors found it wasn’t robust enough and was leading to poor outcomes for too many vulnerable children.

It shows a system where there was poor co-operation between State agencies, with highly sensitive information, for example, not promptly shared with the Garda Síochána.

It shows a system that was responding too late in many cases to the risks faced by children at risk of mistreatment.

And it shows a system where confusion has reigned over national policies on the handling of child abuse or welfare concerns.


Badly managed
This is what happens when a child protection system is poorly organised and badly managed.

The result is that too many vulnerable young people remain at risk of abuse or mistreatment.

We’re at a stage where we might expect to see significant improvements in the way our frontline services are protecting children.

After all, there have been 17 major State report over the past two decades into child protection failings.

Reports into deaths in State care over the past decade, the Roscommon abuse case, the Kilkenny incest case and others through the years share many of the same findings.

They point to poor co-operation and communication between State agencies; the lack of a standardised approach to dealing with abuse concerns; a lack of emphasis on preventive measures; and a failure to implement child protection guidelines consistently.

We will know more about the real state of our frontline services as the authority continues its inspections of other HSE chid protection and welfare offices over the coming weeks and months.

Many of these reports will be into parts of the State where services are under much even greater strain.

A new agency is in the process of being established which will take responsible for the area away from the HSE. It also has its own national director. But yesterday’s report is a reminder that changing name-plates and creating new roles isn’t enough.

What is more pressing is the need to to change the culture of health and social services and to ensure gaps and inconsistencies of the kind that have existed until now are no longer tolerated.


Early intervention
It will also need to place a much greater emphasis on providing early intervention and family support, instead of waiting for emergencies cases to blow up and swallow resources.

It won’t be easy, by any means.

But politicians and policymakers will be judged on whether these recommendations are implemented – or whether they go the way of proposals made in many previous reports.

If yesterday’s inspection report remind us of anything, it’s that we cannot afford to fail a new generation of vulnerable young people.