In its annual report for 2015, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said the lack of investment in prevention and early intervention for at-risk children meant demand for services were reaching “crisis point”.
“We can point to many examples of children being adversely affected by a lack of 24-hour social work services. Demand for emergency and acute services means that, as a nation, we continue to under-resource prevention and early-intervention — so with each passing week, children in need of support are having those needs ignored. We are rapidly reaching crisis point,” said the report.
The society said that, in some cases, children are waiting as long as 18 months for referral to a child psychologist.
The report pointed out that, in 2015, the ISPCC’s Childhood Support Service experienced “huge demand” and worked with 439 individual clients.
The service provides a one-to-one child-centred service for children and young people in their own home or place of the child’s choosing, and has been running for 20 years.
The primary reasons for referral to the service were for behavioural support (24%) and parental separation (13%).
The main source of referral was from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (32%), the educational sector (30%), and parents (23%).
One of the primary reasons for referral to the service was issues arising for children as a result of parental separation. The report noted that the processes surrounding this separation were increasingly emerging as a source of anxiety for children.
The system of mediation, the courts and legal process, and the lack of the voice of the child in this system, were all issues identified.
ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long said these services were not child-centred, despite legislation arising from the children’s rights referendum now being in place.
“The family courts system, custody and access processes and even mediation process are not child-centred, the voice of the child is often not heard in these situations and children’s emotional well-being can be affected. There is no early-stage intervention, and so referrals often occur late in the process when cases are at extreme stages,” she said.
“There is a clear need to address the deficiencies in the process, in the support systems available and in the courts systems that do not enable the voice of the child to be heard in these situations,” she said.
Ms Long said the goal of its support services was to increase the child’s psychological resilience so they can cope with any issues they encounter.
“Issues in children’s lives such as bullying, parental separation etc, can upset a child’s world; we help them to pick up the pieces and support them with putting them back together again,” she said.