HSE orders probe over family abuse

THE HSE has ordered an investigation into how social services failed to intervene in what a judge described as the “torture” of eight children by their mother over seven years.

The move has once again highlighted ongoing shortcomings with child protection legislation and came on the same day that revised child protection guidelines were published by the Department of Children.

The HSE review into social workers’ involvement with the family, who cannot be named to protect the children, will look at why eight siblings were only taken into care nine years after social workers first became aware of dysfunctional behaviour within the family.

Details of the abuse, which emerged this week, have revealed a catalogue of abuse carried out by a 47-year-old mother against eight of her children.

The abuse included beating one of her sons with whips and sticks in a bid to make him appear disabled so that she could claim extra social welfare benefits.

The children were only taken into care in 2009, despite the HSE admitting it was aware of the family in 2000.

The handling of the case has been referred to the HSE’s national review group for serious incidents and child deaths.

The group, which has an independent panel made up of professionals from a range of disciplines, is assessing the HSE’s involvement with the family, and should complete its assessment within four months. The HSE must publish the executive summary of the report at the very least, or the entire report within 30 days of completion.

News of the investigation came on the same day that the Government moved to tighten rules on reporting and identifying the abuse of children.

The Children First guidelines set out the responsibility of agencies working with children.

The guidelines, first published in 1999, also refer to how children can be abused through online activity and social networking sites.

Laws will be introduced in the autumn to enforce the protection guidelines.

HSE national director for Children and Family Services Gordon Jeyes yesterday stressed the importance of accountability, consistency and transparency in the child welfare and protection system.

He said the absence of these foundations has been proven, time and again, to have placed children at serious risk.

Responding to news of the HSE investigation, Mary Flaherty of abuse support group CARI said report after report has demonstrated the gaps in a system that allow adults to shirk their responsibilities to protect children.

Ms Flaherty said the publication of the guidelines gave renewed vigour to the reform process within the child welfare and protection system.

But she said this is just the start of the process.

“In addition to the enactment of Children First legislation, the long-awaited National Vetting Bureau Bill must be progressed as a matter of urgency,” she said.

“It is also crucial that we do not forget the fundamental lack of children’s rights at the highest level of Irish law. The constitutional referendum on children’s rights must provide the backbone to reform of our child protection system by asserting the primacy of protecting children and promoting their rights in the Irish Constitution.”

On Thursday, the woman at the centre of the case pleaded guilty to eight sample charges of assaulting, ill-treating and neglecting eight children from May 2002 to June 2009.

One daughter told gardaí their mother would lock them all in a confined space with no food and give them a wet sheet to sleep on for the night. One child recalled how their mother often went away for a week at a time and they would have to beg food from neighbours.

In 2002, a social worker found the second-youngest daughter, who was born with physical disabilities, strapped into a filthy buggy. The room in which she was discovered by authorities was dirty, cold and strewn with nappies.

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