As first revealed in the Irish Examiner last month, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) had raised serious concerns over the existing service after a 15-year-old boy had to spend a night in a Cork Garda station because social workers could not be contacted.
HSE plans would have seen expanded social care teams and a 24-hour on-call service marshalled by a national call centre, but those proposals have now been pulled because of the HSE’s reduced budget.
The trade union representing social care staff, Impact, was also informed that the necessary funds required for the scheme would not be provided, with the issue coming to light just a week after a report from the Office of the Minister for Children highlighted problems with the social care system.
In a statement, the HSE said “in the current economic climate, it is not possible to progress the fully comprehensive dedicated out of hours service. However, in the context of the discussions with the Department of Health and Children in recent weeks, the HSE is currently focusing on the provision of emergency placements for children on an out of hours basis”.
“It should be noted that, for example, in a situation where a parent is taken ill and a child has to be cared for on an emergency basis, the HSE is also attempting to ensure that the needs of the parent and child are addressed.
“These new plans are currently being finalised.”
HSE assistant national director with responsibility for children’s services, Hugh Kane, said there were no other measures under consideration regarding the care of children that could also be threatened because of limited budgets.
But Barnardos claimed the cutbacks could lead to tragedy on a par with the deaths of two adults and their children in Monageer last year. Barnardos’ director of advocacy, Norah Gibbons, said: “This is the worst possible form of cost savings as it is hitting the most vulnerable members of our community. Failure to provide this service could result in children being placed in extremely dangerous situations.”
She said family crises did not happen only during office hours and a 24-hour service was essential if these issues were to be dealt with properly and professionally.
“It is vital that the Government provide the funding to redress this shortcoming so that we are not at this same point in six months time discussing yet another tragedy,” she said.
Mary Nicholson, ISPCC advocacy manager said: “Yet again we are faced with the fact that intervention and support of vulnerable children who are at risk or are victims of abuse receive, is not deemed to be a financial priority for the Government.”