Gardaí ‘reluctant’ to use Section 12 after Roma child scandals

The number of times children are taken into care under the Section 12 mechanism — used by gardaí in the case of the two Roma children earlier this year — has fallen in 2013.

Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, yesterday told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children that while the Section 12 method was used on average 747 times a year between 2010 and 2012, in the year to date it has been employed on just 584 occasions.

Privately, some gardaí have said members of the force were now more reluctant to use Section 12 to bring children into care as a result of two cases in which Roma children were wrongly taken from their parents in the mistaken belief they may have been victims of child abduction.

Emily Logan, the Children’s Ombudsman, is carrying out an investigation into those cases, in Dublin and Athlone, and is exploring the levels of interaction between the gardaí and HSE.

Ms Fitzgerald told the committee yesterday that she was “looking forward” to reading the investigation and outlined how the Child and Family Support Agency will begin its work on Jan 1.

President Michael D Higgins signed the Child and Family Agency bill this week and the minister signed the commencement order on Wednesday.

She told the committee the agency was “a historic development and a significant milestone”.

“This is the biggest public sector reform this Government has been involved in, with more than 4,000 staff and a budget of €600m,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

As for future developments, she said a campus manager has been appointed by the board of management as part of the redevelopment of the Oberstown campus while new legislation on aftercare provision for children leaving the care system would be included in the childcare bill that she said would hopefully be completed in January.

Ms Fitzgerald said the transfer of younger prisoners from St Patrick’s Institute for Young Offenders to Oberstown had started and that a National Children and Young People’s Policy Framework will be published in 2014.

She said she wanted to see an increased focus on early intervention and would be looking at the development of close links between the new agency, public health nurses, and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, as well as developing a national mentoring strategy with adequate regional coverage.

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout said she was concerned about special care placements and specifically the average 45-day waiting time for them.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “We can’t magic up the places.”

She said the reality was that capacity was insufficient but that a plan was in place to address the issue.


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