90% of welfare conference cases concern child neglect

A study has found that, of 335 referrals made to the Family Welfare Conference (FWC) Service in Dublin, more than 90% involved child neglect.

The study also found physical abuse was a factor in 12.8% of the cases, while emotional abuse was present in more than 11% of referrals. Sexual abuse was present in 2.8% of cases.

The figures are contained in a new piece of research looking at the outcomes of children and families who engage with the FWC, in which meetings are held involving extended family members and the young person concerned, as well as representatives of services involved in their welfare, such as social workers and project workers.

It looked at cases from 2011 to 2013 and found that there were a number of common risk factors in the families involved in the FWCs.

Parental substance misuse was the most frequently occurring risk factor, according to the study, present in 37.6% of the cases.

Child substance misuse was also high, with 24.2% of referrals identifying this as a risk factor. Parental mental health issues were a factor in 23% of all cases reviewed as part of the study, and child mental health was a factor in 22.7% of cases.

Almost 40% of children involved in the cases were in a lone-parent household, and the educational status of 16.7% of the young people aged 13 or over was not known at the time the research was carried out.

The 335 families included 540 children and just under one third of the initial referrals had a FWC.

The report, entitled ‘Pathways and Outcomes: A study of 335 referrals to the Family Welfare Conference (FWC) Service in Dublin, 2011– 2013’, is available at tusla.ie.

According to the report, Family Welfare Conferencing’ has been available in Ireland for more than 15 years but remains a “marginal activity, especially in the delivery of statutory care and protection services”, even though there is evidence to show it has worked well in many cases and can contribute to positive outcomes for young people.

The report makes a string of recommendations as to how the system could be improved, but outlines how, typically, a FWC will include more than 10 people, at least half of whom are family members, and that there is a high rate of parents and carers following through on commitments made at the conferences.

The report, by Valerie O’Brien, School of Applied Social Science, UCD, and Hannaleena Ahonen, service leader of Family Welfare Conference Service, Tusla, with the assistance of a research team, is available on the tusla.ie website.


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