Vacancies currently exist in the HSE Dublin North East area, specifically in Dublin North West, Dublin North Central and Dublin North, as well as in Louth.
Children’s charity Barnardos said the vacancies should be filled as a matter of priority, as it launched Protecting Children: A Child Protection Guide for Early Years and School Age Childcare Services.
It also promoted a separate guide for parents, and both booklets are to provide anyone working with children advice on how to spot signs of neglect or abuse, and how to act on that information.
One of the co-authors of the guide, Anne Conroy, said anyone working in childcare needed to know the signs and also how to prevent any child coming to harm. She said they also needed to be properly trained to deal with child abuse and neglect cases.
HSE statistics for 2008 show 24,668 reports of abuse or neglect, an increase of more than 5,200 reports on the 2005 figure, yet gaps still remain in some areas where Children First Advice Officers should be on hand to advise any managers working with children.
Ms Conroy said: “Childcare staff are in a unique position because they have such access to children — 97% of children are now in a pre-school setting before starting school.
“If they have a concern they should be discussing that concern within their service and every service should have a designated person trained to a higher level in recognising child abuse and knowing what steps to take.”
She said the current Children First guidelines would work better if they were placed on a statutory footing, but speaking at the launch of the guides yesterday, Mary Doyle of the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said putting guidelines into law was a complex process.
She said if mandatory reporting was introduced, the current system could be overwhelmed by the number of reports it would receive.
Ms Conroy said there had been no audit on compliance with the current Children First guideline: “Our own experience would be that a lot of managers would feel that they need a lot more help in this area and a lot more guidance.”
This is where the HSE officers locally have a role to play, but she said some parts of the country were not adequately covered.