Concerns child services report not getting local input

A HEALTH services report examining crisis and care services provided to vulnerable children and families is no longer being carried out according to specific guidelines set down under the Childcare Act.

The Health Service Executive report entitled the Review of Adequacy of Child and Family services, was set up under section 8 of the 1991 Childcare Act.

The act clearly states that “a health board shall, within 12 months... and annually thereafter, have a report prepared on the adequacy of the child care and family support services available in its area”.

However, inquiries by the Irish Examiner have revealed the review is now being prepared without the formal input of local reports as it was in previous years.

Previous to the 2008 report, local managers wrote extensive submissions to the HSE on services in their area. These submissions, while not contained in the final report, served to inform it and gave a clear picture of services – and the lack of services – in each area. A HSE statement on why there were no background submissions available for the 2008 report stated: “The 2008 Review of Adequacy Report was prepared without the input of local reports as in previous years. The report is informed by the interim dataset returns which contain a very wide range of comprehensive data in regard to children and family services. The report is also informed by a range of other data sources including the CSO, the small area health research unit, the national drug treatment reporting system, the National Office for Suicide Prevention and HIQA. In addition the report is informed by the information that flows from the on-going formal and informal management processes of the service which contextualises the service level data.”

Dr Siobhán Barry, consultant psychiatrist, St John of God’s Hospital, said it was unacceptable if the report was no longer being carried out as specified in the act.

“So there is no local input... The 2008 report is complied from interim data returns and a bewildering number of agencies mentioned as having played a part, yet it is the responsibility of the HSE under section 8 of the act that bear the responsibility for adequacy.”

Norah Gibbons, advocacy director of children’s charity Barnardos, said it was imperative that section 8 reports told the full story.

“Reports should face out and not face in. In the public interest we need to identify what is available in each area, where the gaps are and how they can be addressed.”

Ms Gibbons said it was important the report had local input and should do exactly what the act says. “It was put in place by legislation for a reason. There must be accountability and we must be able to see what is going right, what is going wrong and what lessons need to be learned.

“We are hoping the new regime within the HSE will make sure this report is from recorded information from the local areas,” she added.

According to the Ryan report implementation plan, while the current format of the report provides “some level of detail” in terms of activity and commentary, there is scope to improve and states the report should address the core issue of adequacy of services and identify gaps.

It also notes the HSE is the only agency required to draw up such reports and others would be helpful to inform the approach to developing services.

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