Vulnerable children are being repeatedly removed from their parents by Gardaí over safety concerns, only to be returned to their care by Tusla, occasionally within 24 hours, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.
This is the most striking feature of the 90 case studies, taken from the Garda Pulse system, outlined by special rapporteur on child protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon in his report examining the removal of children from their families by Gardaí.
Some of the harrowing cases include:
1. Young girl, assaulted by her brother, returned to his care by HSE:
Gardaí received a call from the HSE (now Tusla) requesting assistance after a child awaiting an X-ray had been removed from a hospital by her brother. He had previously admitted assaulting her.
After following the brother's car back to an apartment, Gardaí found the little girl behind a curtain in the living room. This was also the girl's bedroom where she slept on the floor.
She was in a distressed state while her brother, extremely agitated and aggressive towards gardaí, initially denied his sister was in the flat.
Gardaí removed the girl from the apartment as they felt she was "in immediate and serious risk of harm". They reported that an emergency care order was to be sought by the HSE. However, the child was subsequently returned to the care of her brother by the HSE. Social workers also refused to confirm to Gardaí whether an application for an emergency care order had been made.
2. Two hospitals refuse to receive a child:
Gardaí had been advised by out-of-hours' social workers to bring the child in question to a hospital. The child was ultimately returned to his father as nowhere else was available.
3. A five-year-old boy, home alone, found locked in a room returned to mother the following day:
Gardaí gained entry to the house through an unlocked garage door which led to the kitchen. No adults were at home. Front and back doors were locked. All window blinds were closed and the boy was locked in an upstairs back bedroom. The key was on the outside of the door. Gardaí removed the child for his own safety to a hospital. It subsequently appeared from entries on PULSE the child was reunited with his mother the following day by the HSE (Tusla), with a “review team in place…they do not suspect immediate risk to the child’s safety”.
4. One-year-old in a house where drugs were being taken:
The PULSE entry states: “Gardaí found 1-year-old child in house unattended. Her father and 2 friends were smoking heroin in an adjoining room.”
5. Three-year-old: "The child was running round in a soiled nappy with dried excrement on her clothes."
Gardaí went to an apartment following an anonymous 999 call. The PULSE entry states: "The apt was littered with rubbish, there were soiled nappies all over the floor, excrement on the floor, broken furniture everywhere, no bedding on the beds. The child was running round in a soiled nappy with dried excrement on her clothes. The child is almost 4 years of age but is unable to speak. Mr [name] appeared agitated & was complaining of a sore hand - when asked by Gardaí what had happened he admitted sustaining the injury from punching a wall in his apt a couple of days previous. Garda [name] had serious concerns regarding the child’s welfare & as a result invoked section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991.”
6. Seven-year-old found “wandering in a housing estate” at 2am:
Gardaí attended the scene and the PULSE entry states they “found child and called to child’s home, front door and back door ajar, nobody at home. Enquiries made to locate child’s mother and found same in local nightclub, highly intoxicated.” As a result, section 12 was invoked and the child was placed into emergency foster care.
7. Three children left home alone by mother returned to her care by Tusla following day:
When the mother was located, she was found to be intoxicated and unable to care for them. Gardaí invoked Section 12 and removed the children.
However, further enquiries revealed they had been returned to her care by Tusla the following day.
"In a number of cases, the aftermath of a section 12 removal resulted in what appears to be a less than satisfactory intervention by the State’s child protection infrastructure," notes the report.
8. Child "scared to be at home and sought refuge at the [Garda] station"':
The child presented himself at a Garda station stating that he had been beaten by an older sibling and his mother.
Medical attention was arranged by the Gardaí which disclosed “evidence of being hit by a belt on his back with some cuts, bruises & welts on his back”.
Foster care was arranged for the child with Five Rivers and the Gardaí attended at the home in question to assess whether other siblings were also at risk.
9. Child taken to hospital as parents and foster carers would not look after her:
The child was reported to be “staggering along the road in bare feet and crying…she may have taken overdose” and was lying on a footpath when located by Gardaí.
The PULSE entry states that neither the child’s parents nor foster carers “were willing to accept care or responsibility of this child”.
As a result, the child was brought to a hospital as a place of safety.
10. Eight/Nine-month-old baby - "saturated from self-urination & from pouring rain":
Gardaí were called to a report of a female slapping her child at a fast food restaurant. Staff informed Gardaí the woman was "slapping child hard, dragging baby/child across wet ground, throwing baby into the air in a care free manner causing concern".
The PULSE entry states: "Mother and baby brought back to the station. When in station baby taken out of buggy & discovered baby had no nappy or any under garments on, (no pants or socks etc). Baby saturated from self-urination & from pouring rain. Baby appeared malnourished. Garda [name] provided baby with food & nappies from local shop. HSE (Tusla) contacted …”.
11. Three-year-old child with "bruises and handprints on body" returned to parents:
Crèche staff had notified social workers of their concern, who in turn notified Gardaí. Medical advice confirmed the likelihood of physical violence and a section 12 was invoked "on the request of social workers” on a Friday evening after 6pm.
However, later entries on PULSE appear to show that the child was returned to its family that Monday after a case conference had been held.
Read the report in full here: