Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said disturbing conditions for children, revealed by a damning report, must cease as the Government faced calls to audit all services and retrain gardaí.
Children could not live in fear in “urine-soaked clothes” when they deserved the protection of the State, said Mr Kenny as his Government came under fire over child services and major problems on taking youngsters into care.
A shocking report by special rapporteur for children Geoffrey Shannon called for greater co-operation between gardaí and Tusla to protect minors.
The dossier found chronic systematic failures and disturbing cases in functions carried out by the child and family agency.
Mr Kenny yesterday told the Dáil he was “disturbed” by the report, as well as by an RTÉ programme setting out some worrying cases of children in care and gaps in child protection.
“Obviously, I am upset about this. The programme was harrowing viewing, to say the least,” he said.
“It showed the unconscionable circumstances in which some children in this country find themselves. It is unacceptable.”
There had been improvements in social services and Tusla, in recent years, stressed Mr Kenny, while noting the RTÉ Investigates programme had focused on gaps in communication between gardaí and Tusla.
He also addressed concerns about children who had been taken to Garda stations for their own apparent protection.
“Some concerns have been expressed about the placement of such children in Garda stations and hospitals. I have been reassured that social admissions to hospital take place only in exceptional circumstances and only where a placement is for the child’s own safety,” said Mr Kenny.
“Tusla does not request the gardaí to keep a child over part of a night. This is a Garda decision.”
However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said there was a “pathetic nature of buck-passing”.
The report examined the removal of children from families, under Section 12 of the Child Care Act, where it is deemed that they are at serious and immediate risk.
The report found children were continuously removed by gardaí from families or inappropriate settings, only to be replaced by Tusla.
Gardaí had commissioned the report by Mr Shannon.
Mr Martin said it was clear there was “no proper comprehensive out-of-hours social work service”.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has asked Tusla for a full response to the Shannon report. She also said a Tusla official would be co-located, by next week, with the national Garda unit for children.
Addressing some of the harrowing cases revealed, Mr Kenny said Tusla would answer questions.
“If this requires regular political oversight and monitoring, let us rectify that,” he said. “One cannot have children living in fear in urine-soaked clothes in situation where they deserve the protection and the support of the State. There is nothing more important that this.”
The ISPCC has written to Tusla, to Ms Zappone, and to gardaí, expressing concern over the report and wanting its recommendations implemented within a year.
Labour’s Brendan Howlin said: “I cannot accept the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone’s assertion Tusla is fit for purpose”
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