Child protection system ‘not ready’ for mandatory reporting of abuse concerns

Social workers have warned the child protection system is “in no way ready” for the introduction in six weeks time of mandatory reporting of child abuse concerns.

Frank Browne, chairman of the board of directors of the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW), said: “You have to be sure before implementing a new system that it can deliver and there is no evidence that Tusla is ready.”

He said the IASW was “never in favour of mandatory reporting”, which, they believe, will lead to a massive increase in referrals to child protection services.

As it stands, more than 800 children regarded as “high priority” cases are without an allocated social worker.

“We see it as potentially placing children at greater risk because there will be more children on waiting lists,” he said.

“Mandatory reporting might tick all the boxes, but it means social workers will have to respond to what could be very superficial concerns.”

From December 11, under the Children First Act 2015, all individuals and groups dealing with children will be obliged to report child protection concerns that cross a defined threshold to Tusla.

It previously emerged that Tusla chief Fred McBride had written to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs recommending that mandatory reporting not be introduced, or, at the very least, be deferred. However, Tusla got an additional €40m in the budget and Mr McBride has since said they have sufficient resources.

A spokeswoman for Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said Mr McBride shared the minister’s view that it was time to introduce mandatory reporting.

“Fred McBride stood side-by-side with her when she announced the commencement date and echoed his support during subsequent media interviews and at the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee last week,” the spokeswoman said, She said mandatory reporting “has been debated for 20 years by five Governments” and the minister was of the view it was “time to act”.

Social workers who spoke to the Irish Examiner on condition of anonymity said they had no confidence the system was ready to take on mandatory reporting.

“There is a political imperative to say we tick the box and we’ve got that in [mandatory reporting] but it bears no relation to the actuality on the ground and the potential impact it will have on existing referrals,” said one social worker.

Ms Zappone’s spokeswoman said mandatory reporting “will fulfill the 2011 Programme for Government commitment” of putting reporting of child abuse on a statutory footing.

Concerns about mandatory reporting will feature at the sixth National Child Protection and Welfare Social Workers Conference that takes place in University College Cork today.

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