Children at abuse risk over lack of services

Hundreds of children were left vulnerable to abuse because of inadequate services in parts of Cork City and county, it has emerged.

An investigation published by the Ombudsman for Children found the HSE did not do all it could to protect children left in ‘at-risk’ situations in the sprawling Cork North Lee area.

It extends from Ballyvourney to Youghal, and covers Macroom, Midleton, and Cobh, as well as the city’s northside.

A member of the North Lee social work team complained to the Ombudsman that the concerns of more than 200 at-risk children were not being followed up.

The children had been identified by the HSE as having been abused or at risk of being abused.

The complainant said there was a high number of children at risk because no social worker was available to follow up on concerns. She added that she was unhappy with the response she got from management — that work was being prioritised and children were receiving an adequate service.

The Ombudsman’s report expressed serious concern at the slow response of social services to cases identified in a memo dated July 2011.

An Ombudsman spokes-person said the report identified serious deficits to be addressed by the HSE.

At the time the memo was issued, it was taking between three to seven months for a social worker to be allocated to the cases.

The HSE said the cases were allocated and worked by the duty team and were subject to weekly review.

In a response to the Ombudsman, the HSE said a claim made during the probe — that children were neither screened nor assessed and had no follow-up —was unsubstantiated.

However, the Ombudsman said it was a “serious concern” that cases identified as needing social work involvement were without an allocated social worker for such a lengthy period.

The HSE was also asked for an immediate review of the current referral rate to North Lee immediately.

HIQA issued a draft inspection report and has been asked if it sees itself as having any further role.

An Ombudsman spokes-person said it would meet the HSE at its six-month review and decide if it was satisfied with its response.

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