Ombudsman for Children: Gardaí need ready access to child data

Gardaí might not have removed two children from their Roma families if they had access to health records, according to the Ombudsman for Children’s report.

Emily Logan said it was “critical” that systems were put in place which would allow gardaí “ready access” to information on children held by social workers and public health nurses.

The ombudsman was also heavily critical in her report of the failure of Garda management to prioritise child protection, describing the lack of guidance to members on emergency care orders as “unacceptable”.

In the recommendations in her 118-page report, published on Tuesday evening, she said gardaí should have “enhanced access” to information held by both the new Child and Family Agency and the HSE with respect to children whose identities are called into question.

Specifically, she said consideration should be given to allow gardaí access to the CFA’s National Child Care Information System. This should be complemented by the development of a national out-of-hours social work service. This issue has been highlighted in successive inquiries into the deaths of children.

The Roma report said gardaí should develop a protocol with public health nursing teams too.

Ms Logan said a “significant amount of information” was held by social workers and public health nurses about the two Roma families and the children that were removed — Child A in Athlone and Child T in Tallaght.

But she said there were “impediments” to gardaí accessing that information. She said in the case of Child A, gardaí were undertaking enquiries “after ordinary business hours and were therefore unable to make contact” with HSE social workers.

In the case of Child T, gardaí did make contact with social workers but not with public health nurses, which could have provided information on Child T.

She said it was “critical” gardaí would have access to this information.

“Indeed, the Inquiry believes that if such sources of information had been available to Gardaí in the cases of Child A and Child T, the Gardaí may well have refrained from precipitating the chain of events that led to the children being removed from the care of their parents,” she concluded.

The ombudsman criticised Garda management:

- The lack of guidance in Garda protocols on the operation of Section 12 (emergency care) powers was “unacceptable”.

- The management approach and policy guidance in child protection was “not commensurate” with the “very onerous responsibility” borne by members on the ground.

- There was no overall Garda child protection strategy.

In situations where a child’s identity is called into question, she said guidance should include: what factors members should consider; the undertaking of discreet enquiries; when to call to the child’s home and the holding of case conferences.

She called for annual reports on the use of Section 12 powers and independent oversight of its use.

Acting garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said she accepted the recommendations and that an implementation team had been set up.


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