Volunteers could cut advocacy cost

A VOLUNTEER system could offset huge costs associated with providing an advocacy service for children in the court system, the head of a child protection organisation has said.

Reports have shown the guardian ad litem system is expensive, with private social workers being paid €110 an hour by the HSE.

The role of such a figure is to represent the interests of abused, neglected and abandoned children in court.

Evin Daly, head of One Child International, an international child protection non-profit organisation with offices in Dublin, the US and Australia, said Ireland should follow the US model of volunteer guardians. Mr Daly, who is Irish, works as a guardian ad litem and also trains new guardians in Florida, where he is based.

“In Dublin there are about 18 guardians, mostly social workers, paid for their services,” he said.

“In Palm Beach county, Florida, with a population of 1.3 million, we have 410 guardians. For the entire area of South Florida, including Miami with a population of 5.5m, there are an estimated 1,300 volunteer guardians.”

In 2009, One Child International proposed a volunteer-based system to the Government.

“In the US, none of the 67,000 guardian ad litem are paid, their work is all volunteer-based. The reward for the child and the guardian is in the work that they do.

“The state provides management and supervision of the guardians, typically by paid social worker case managers, who advise and supervise the guardians and a legal team that is available to advise and guide as needed.”

However, Freda McKitterick, who heads Barnardos’s guardian service, said that, in her experience, it is difficult to find the right person for the job, even in a professional capacity.

“This is a very specialised role and I don’t think a volunteer would be able to offer the same expertise,” she said.

Ms McKitterick said Barnardos pays its guardians far less than the HSE. She said demand for the service had increased by almost 40% from last year.

“We are keeping up but it is a struggle and everyone is working very hard.

“We are recruiting but again it is difficult. Of about 20 applications that look good on paper, about three will be suitable.”

As reported in the Sunday Business Post this month, social workers previously employed by the HSE are being paid as much as €300,000 per year by their former employer.

The highest-paid individual, working as a guardian in the east of the country, earned over €311,000 in 2010. Another earned over €267,000. The third highest earner was paid €210,000.

In the greater Dublin area, there is a structured format for payment of guardian ad litem rates. They are paid €110 per hour for their work and €42.65 per hour for travel or waiting time. In other HSE regions, payments are at rates invoiced by the guardians.

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