Pilot scheme for vulnerable children used 29 times

A pilot out-of-hours scheme for vulnerable children needing social work care has been used 29 times in seven months in Cork.

The pilot service commenced in Cork last September and ran until April 10, while a similar pilot was carried out in Co Donegal in 2011.

While just eight calls were recorded in Donegal, 29 were recorded in Cork, indicating a possible need for the service to be established full-time.

The scheme was launched after a number of cases in recent years where children and young people unable to access social services ended up sleeping in Garda stations or elsewhere.

That practice has now stopped due to the introduction in June 2009 of the Emergency Place of Safety Service (EPSS), where gardaí can access an emergency placement for children found to be at risk out of hours.

Under that scheme a child can be placed in a foster care family setting until the next working day when the local social work service assumes responsibility for the case.

The Cork and Donegal pilots differed in that they involved local HSE social work staff being on call and available out of hours to respond to the emergency referrals. The numbers of referrals and placements under the EPSS service have risen steadily since 2009.

In 2008 there were 288 referrals and 172 placements; in 2011 there were 370 referrals and 253 placements; and to the end of March this year there had been 123 referrals and 78 placements.

Responding to the figures the Irish Association of Social Workers said that while everyone wanted to see a 24-hour service, it would only work in an expanded format were it properly resourced.

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