Call for child protection public health nurses

There should be more child protection public health nurses, according to the findings of a study which highlighted the vital role they play in spotting and dealing with neglect cases.

The study, carried out for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, focused on the child protection public health nurse in South Lee in Cork — the only area to have someone in the dedicated role.

The report found there was a role for child protection public health nurses to work within the Child and Family Agency, to provide clinical expertise in child health and development and to be the link between Tusla and local primary care teams.

It also says a strategy should be developed to support assistant directors of public health nursing in developing skills in supervision to enable them to keep pace with the increasing complexity of child welfare and protection cases.

It says that professionals such as social workers and public health nurses “experience substantial barriers to developing and maintaining effective inter-disciplinary working relationships”, including “a lack of understanding of professional roles and responsibilities, lack of supervision, high caseloads and mistrust between the professionals involved.

“These challenges are linked to poor outcomes for children and families,” according to the report.

However, in the South Lee social work department a child protection public health nurse role was developed in 2001, initially as a pilot project.

It is still the only area to have that role in place, but according to the report, having a child protection public health nurse meant a greater focus on children under the age of five; assistance with assessments of home conditions; and supports for parents.

“Social workers were of the view that child protection public health nurses should co-work cases with them which could include assessment of risk to a child especially from a neglect and health perspective,” it said.

Neglect accounted for more than half of the cases referred to the social work department in 2013, and while the child protection public health nurse responds to referrals from different teams, “in recent years the pattern of neglect has meant the role focuses mainly on issues concerning very young children which are dealt with by the duty team and the more in-depth assessment undertaken by the intake team”.

The study, put together by Patricia O’Dwyer, Sheila Cahalane, and Susanne Pelican-Kelly, can be viewed at tusla.ie.

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