Children at risk due to shortage of staff

Chronic under-staffing of psychology services in Co Roscommon left 180 children waiting one to two years to be seen and prevented psychologists from assessing parents ability to care for their children.

An audit of the management of neglect cases in three parts of the country, including Co Roscommon, found an overburdened psychology service was unable to provide a number of critical services from a child protection perspective including investigation of abuse allegations and interventions with children who have been abused.

The staffing situation in Roscommon — the setting for one of the country’s most horrific child abuse cases where a mother was jailed for incest for the first time in Irish legal history — was far worse than in Dublin South East or Waterford.

At the time the audit took place, the Roscommon psychology service had just four professional staff and no psychologists within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

Two posts lost in the moratorium in Dec 2007 had not been filled. Waterford, in contrast, had 16.5 whole time equivalent psychologists, while Dublin South East had 12.

The deficits in services provided to children who are the subject of child protection concerns are highlighted in a review by Lynne Peyton, a child care and management consultant who carried out the audit at the behest of the HSE on foot of the findings of the 2010 Roscommon Inquiry.

The Roscommon Inquiry was set up after it emerged that six children had been abused over a period of six years by their parents, despite regular visits from social workers. The inquiry found child care professionals had failed to follow up on the decisions taken by the child protection management team in a manner that offered the children better protection.

The Peyton report, a pilot exercise which is expected to act as a template for a national audit of the management of neglect cases, found vastly different staffing levels, workforce arrangements and policies and practices in the three areas surveyed.

Ms Peyton described the Roscommon social work team as at times, “dangerously understaffed”.

The audit found neglect reports tripled in Roscommon and Waterford between 2005 and 2010 and the number of children subject to Care Orders also tripled in Roscommon and rose significantly in both Waterford and Dublin South East.

During the same period, there was a limited increase in staffing. Parental alcohol misuse was a factor in 62% of families surveyed.

Ms Peyton concluded that the “unmanageable volume of Garda notifications in some areas, social working staffing shortages, the absence of trained Social Work Investigative Interviewers and the thresholds applied by the DPP in relation to prosecuting cases of parental neglect are all issues which need to be further explored by the new Children and Families Support Agency, an Garda Síochána and the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs”.

Almost 100 cases involving more than 300 children were considered by Ms Peyton.

In a statement last night, the HSE said the report has been “acted upon by Children and Families with the issue of a template for auditing neglect in Aug 2012 and social work alerted to the systemic and on-going impact of neglect”.

“This has resulted in an increased number of supervision orders and an increase in neglect as a contributory cause of children being taken into care,” the HSE said.


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