HSE accused of hiding childcare report

THE HSE has been accused of burying a confidential report which outlines a series of failings in the delivery of support services for children and their families.

The draft report, entitled Inspiring Confidence in Children and Family Services – Putting Children First and Meaning It, only emerged yesterday when it was leaked to Fine Gael’s children’s spokesman Alan Shatter.

Reacting last night, the opposition said Minister for Children Barry Andrews had “serious questions” to answer over why the report, carried out by PA Consulting, was not published despite being completed last October. The report outlines a catalogue of problems in HSE services, including:

* Collaboration between services and agencies “uneven and for the most part unacceptable from the perspective of the child”.

* “Strong anxieties” that the needs of children are secondary to the needs of the delivery system.

* Under-developed supports for social workers and their managers.

* Significant and unhelpful variations in practice across local areas in how cases are referred and how risk is assessed.

In a system where 40% of children are in care for more than five years, the report also states that distribution of resources does not correlate with child population need, and some resistance to, and a possible lack of appetite for, recommended changes.

Mr Shatter said: “I think they had no intention of publishing it. It really is a damning indictment of the structures and management systems of childcare services.” He said he still did not know if the minister had read the report, and how much it cost. He also questioned why the Government-appointed Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, had not received a copy of it ahead of the publication of his own report last week.

“It illustrates the disconnect between the HSE and the minister’s office, and the HSE and those developing policy at national level, as well as the HSE’s obsessive secrecy,” he said.

Barnardos’ director of advocacy Norah Gibbons said the report highlighted familiar failings in a system she likened to “bricks and plaster at a crumbling wall”.

In a statement, the minister’s department said he was briefed by both PA Consulting and the HSE regarding the report. “The report was presented to the board of the HSE and the challenge now is to move forward with full implementation.”

Last night Phil Garland, assistant national director, HSE Children and Family Services, said: “There is no secrecy about the PA report, it is just one element of a comprehensive review of childcare services, which is critical to planning how we deliver the best possible services for children and families in the future.

“As a consultative document it contributed to the overall process of major reform which is currently under way but such significant changes cannot be delivered overnight.”

The HSE added that Mr Garland’s appointment was a part of the report’s recommendations.

Norah Gibbons said: “I think as much information as possible that can go into the public domain should... especially this kind of information that has to do with structures and services delivery.”

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