20% of children in state care have special needs

The first interim report from the Child Care Law Reporting Project has found that 20% of children taken into the care of the State have special needs and 12% of all child care proceedings involve children whose parents have a mental illness or intellectual difficulty.

Neglect is the most common reason for children going into care.

The report cited it as the main reason for a court order being sought in a fifth of cases, and claimed it often arises from other factors, like drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness, and may be combined with other problems such as domestic violence.

Abuse also featured strongly in the report’s findings.

It said this can include non-accidental injury in which a child suffers unexplained injuries while in the care of his or her parents.

Director of the project Dr Carol Coulter said drug use may also be a factor for these parents and their issue.

“Usually mental illness alone does not account for the parents’ problems,” Dr Coulter said.

“Sometimes this is combined with alcohol or drug abuse and often with socialisolation and lack of extended family support.”

The report, launched by Chief Justice Mrs Susan Denham, is the first from the project, which is to publish regular reports from the courts making orders under the Child Care Act.

It described the fact that almost one-fifth of the children involved in the cases had special needs as “one of the most striking findings”.

It said more detailed notes revealed these needs were almost always psychological or educational.

Evidence given by psychologists, speech and language therapists showed how neglect and abuse had severe adverse effects on children’s development, the report said.

This, it added, can lead in some cases to the diagnosis of learning disabilities, psychological disorders and other behavioural problems.

The report said this highlights the challenges facing the Health Service Executive (HSE) in finding appropriate foster care for youngsters, as children with special needs are more likely to have their care placement break down.

The report, which included analysis of data collected from 333 cases attendedby the project’s team between Dec 2012 and Jul 2013, found that African children are 20 times more likely to be the subject of care proceedings.

Dr Coulter said this raises questions about the impact of direct provision on children’s welfare and about Ireland’s integration strategy for immigrants.

She said it is important that the country’s childcare protection system is understood by immigrant families.

As there were 3,358 children in care on foot of court orders in 2011 (the last year for which figures were available) the data collected represents around 10% of cases.

Key findings of report

* African children represented 11% of the cases considered, rising to 14% in Dublin — while people of African ethnicity represent only 0.5% of the population.

* 10% of cases concerned married parents.

* Almost half of the respondent parents were single — almost invariably single mothers. The remainder were either cohabiting or separated, including formerly cohabiting couples.

* A difference in practice between the use of guardians ad litem — who represent the welfare and interests of a child — was identified in Dublin and the rest of the country.

* Guardians ad litem were used in 75% of cases in Dublin, but only half of cases outside the capital.

* Where they were used, they often conveyed the wishes of the child to the court as well as reporting on his or her best interests.

* Apart from that, there were few examples of the voice of the child being heard in the proceedings.

* 42% of applications were for extensions of interim care orders, which expire after 29 days; 12.6% were for care orders, which apply until a child is 18; supervision orders accounted for 8% of cases and emergency care orders, 4%.


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