State ‘still failing children’ as Childline gets 450,000 calls

THE Government has again been accused of failing children, as figures from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children show there were almost 450,000 calls to its helpline in the first six months of the year.

The stark figures revealed to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday also show there are almost 300 children on a waiting list to access services provided by the charity, due to unprecedented demand and a shortage of funds.

Both the ISPCC and Barnardos also warned that serious cracks are appearing throughout the child protection system, while Government promises on services have not been met.

Both groups said there was an urgent need for the proposed referendum on amending the Constitution. Fine Gael children’s spokesman Charlie Flanagan attacked Children’s Minister Barry Andrews over what he said was “equivocation now that did not seem to be there last February”, when another Oireachtas committee published the proposed wording.

The committee heard:

* Garda vetting of individuals seeking to work with children currently takes between 12 and 16 weeks, while the ISPCC had already applied for vetting clearance for 405 people.

* No action has been taken to implement vetting legislation despite a commitment two years ago to do so.

* Despite 79% of Childline calls and 80% of child protection referrals to HSE and gardaí coming out of hours, there was still no concrete plan for a 24-hour service nationwide.

* The 270 social work posts promised out of recommendations in the Ryan Report have still not been put in place.

Mr Andrews said yesterday a referendum is unlikely to be held this year as work is continuing on key issues such as continuity of care, the proper vetting of foster-care parents, and whether the proposed wording would impact on immigration laws.

But Mary Nicholson of the ISPCC said desired changes to child protection measures must be underpinned by a referendum.

ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirnie also said there were “clearly massive issues” with the HSE’s role in child protection.

“We have all tried to work with the system but clearly it is not working the way it should.”

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay echoed the point, claiming the leadership in this area has been given no authority to do the job. “As a result there is a lack of clear national standards, a lack of a clear assessment model and no national agreement on the threshold that we as a nation want to set in respect of protecting our children.

“It remains completely unclear, even at this stage, as to who carried ultimate political accountability for vulnerable children and families in Ireland.”


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