Thousands of children are at risk of neglect and abuse due to consistent underfunding of the Child and Family Agency and support services, Barnardos has warned.
Lack of funding for frontline staff at Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, will see more children damaged by neglect — many severely and irreparably — Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay has warned as figures show that there is a growing number of children in care.
Figures from Tusla show that at the end of January there were 6,371 children in care, with 426 (or 7%) not allocated a social worker.
The most recently available figures for child neglect referrals show it to be a serious problem within the system: in the first nine months of last year Tusla received 3,650 referrals of neglect.
As for open child welfare and protection cases currently under review, there were 25,574 open cases at the end of January — a reduction of 1,081 open cases since the end of December.
A Tusla spokesperson stressed that although each referral involved one child, there could be multiple referrals for an individual child included in the figures, such as a referral received from a GP and at the same time a referral received from a public health nurse or school.
The warning from Barnardos came in the aftermath of the sentencing of a woman in Galway earlier this week for a catalogue of abuse and neglect perpetrated against her children.
The 39-year-old was jailed for four years after six of her children gave evidence of a five-year period of abuse, including how one child was pushed down the stairs by his mother; how she drove a car at two of her children after they had spilled a milkshake; and how others were made to swallow washing-up liquid.
Tusla is reviewing how the children at the centre of this case were left with their mother for five years after she first came to the attention of child protection services.
Mr Finlay said underfunding of Tusla means children are being put at risk.
“We know neglect is the main reason for referral into Tusla, yet Tusla’s underfunding has meant a dearth of frontline personnel to offer appropriate support and instead it focuses mainly on crisis cases,” he said.
“Even the additional funding to Tusla given in Budget 2016 is insufficient to shift its focus into a more preventative direction.”
Mr Finlay warns that the toll of neglect on individual children is “severe and often irreparable”, with the potential to adversely affect long-term wellbeing and emotional and psychological trust.
“When we know the solution to reducing the scale and severity of neglect, it is imperative that the resources are given to Tusla to ensure it can meet its full obligations,” said Mr Finlay.
“Failure to invest in prevention and early intervention is a failure to protect vulnerable children. As a society, it is not an area we should scrimp on.”
As Mr Finlay referred to recommendations contained in previous reports into child neglect and abuse, such as the Roscommon Case and Kelly Fitzgerald, which urged greater funding, fresh failings in the State’s foster services were uncovered by RTÉ.
Its Investigations Unit last night looked at a case in the west of Ireland in which children were left at risk for years despite sexual abuse allegations.
In the separate case which was the focus of last night’s Primetime Investigates programme, the foster family involved had until recently continued to provide some support services.
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