MORE than 1,000 children are formally suspected of being physically, sexually or emotionally abused in Cork every year, official figures have confirmed.
New social work and child protection statistics show that despite a series of high-profile child abuse cases in recent months, children are continuing to be placed needlessly at risk.
According to the official figures, revealed at the latest HSE South regional health forum, since the start of 2006 social services have been asked to assess an average of 2,000 children every year in Cork due to fears of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and neglect.
Over the three-year period the figure has consistently fallen to just over 1,000 formal abuse investigations after initial assessment.
However, despite claims of improved measures to prevent abuse, the records show that 7,456 initial complaints have been made since January 2006 – 1,196 of which occurred in the first six months of 2009 alone.
While total statistics for last year have yet to be compiled, those for 2008 show that of the 1,111 formal investigations launched that year, they included 439 referring to neglect, 261 to physical abuse, and 217 referring to sexual abuse.
Between January 2006 and December 2008, a total of 3,332 formal investigations into child abuse were launched in the Cork region.
However, during the same period the number of “approved designated beds” for at-risk children in Cork and Kerry fell significantly, from 67 in 2006 and 2007 to just 51 in 2008.
The HSE did not clarify how many children in the region spent nights in adult units due to a lack of specialised beds over the same four years.
However, the figures released after questions from Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer have confirmed that in three cases since January 2007 the HSE has been forced to send a child abroad because no “specialist residential treatment” was available – this has cost the state more than €391,000.
In addition, the official statistics also show that 10 social worker posts specifically focusing on child abuse are currently unfilled in Cork out of a total of 82 positions.
Since the start of 2006, the HSE has spent almost €60 million on residential units for children at risk in Cork and Kerry, with the region due to receive extra funding for the recruitment of social workers as part of the Government’s €14m Ryan report response.
The HSE is undergoing a “strategic review” of child protection services after a series of child abuse scandals emerged.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved