'Widespread uncertainty' over protection of neglected children


AN UNPUBLISHED independent audit of child protection cases has revealed “widespread uncertainty” among social services and the judiciary over the consequences of neglect on children at risk.

The report, A Review of Practice and Audit of Management of Cases of Neglect, was commissioned by the Health Service Executive (HSE) after the Roscommon child abuse inquiry.

The audit involved a detailed analysis of 30 cases of neglect in the county. It found that social services responded quickly to many of these cases and provided a range of supports which resulted in improvements in parenting and better outcomes for children.

However, there were seven cases where it concluded that children were being chronically neglected and should have been either placed in care or properly safeguarded.

“These were cases where sustained attempts to support children within the family did not seem to have resulted in sufficient improvement to their circumstances,” the report states.

It concluded that in these cases there was need to prioritise the protection of children over preserving the integrity of the family.

The report also stated that social workers and their managers felt it was much easier to obtain care orders where there was physical or sexual abuse, rather than neglect.

“There is an urgent need for better understanding of the consequences of neglect” and “agreement with the judiciary as to thresholds for care proceedings and the level of proof required,” states the report, by independent childcare consultant Lynne Peyton.

Overall, the report found staff and managers displayed a commitment to providing a range of supports to assist families and were securing positive outcomes for children at home or in care.

But it found that assessments for children with developmental delays or special needs often took longer than expected because of waiting lists for services such as speech therapy and mental health.

In a statement over the weekend, the HSE said the audit showed “significant progress in terms of service provision and improvement in children and family services.”

However, The Irish Times has established that the key position of principal social worker in Roscommon has been vacant for at least six months. The HSE said the post had been advertised and it was expected the successful candidate would take up their post shortly.

Despite the financial and recruitment pressures, it said social workers in the county had increased from nine in 2010 to 17 in 2012.

Across the wider HSE West area, however, there are 50 vacant social work posts. This equated to a total staffing complement of 83 per cent.