The call was made at an event marking a year since a key report into the use by An Garda Síochána of emergency powers under section 12 of the Childcare Act to remove children from their homes if they are at risk.
That audit, conducted by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, outlined numerous failings in the child protection system, including the lack of an adequate out-of-hours social work service; issues with data on the Garda Pulse system linked to section 12 interventions; and a lack of adequate training, resourcing, or support for gardaí in removing a child at risk of harm.
Dr Shannon, alongside Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon and ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long, was among those who attended yesterday’s conference to reflect on progress made since publication of the report and what still needs to be done to improve the response to children in serious difficulty.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme, Ms Long said that there had been some positive developments since the publication of the audit in May last year, including better levels of co-operation between gardaí and Tusla, the child and family agency.
She said much of the improvements would centre around “culture change” and both gardaí and social workers knowing they are responsible for the protection of children and the need to talk to each other.
As for an out-of-hours social work service, Ms Long said Tusla has taken steps towards ensuring such a service is made available.
She said the need for it is highlighted by the fact that, in some cases, no social worker was present when a child was removed under section 12, and in some cases the child then had to be taken to a Garda station — something that could lead to the child being retraumatised.
She said many children who call the ISPCC’s Childline service out of hours are in need of a social worker.
Dr Muldoon emphasised the need for a social work service that would be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and also called for child protection agencies to be co-located to ensure children receive the best possible standard of support.
“From there we can start to change the type of republic we have for children and young people,” he said.
“We’ve got to do better with our services. We owe it to children and young people not to fail them a second time.”
Dr Shannon described how he found the Garda Pulse system was not able to provide a clear and concise picture of section 12 removals and how a deep-seated culture of learning on the job prevailed.
He proposed issuing a pocket-sized booklet to all members of An Garda Síochána with guidance on the most appropriate action to take in situations where they may be required to use their powers under section 12 of the Childcare Act.
He said the passing into law of the Public Health Alcohol Bill is necessary to help avoid drug and alcohol abuse by parents having a very damaging effect on children.
Ms Long, who is stepping down from her role as ISPCC chief, also paid tribute to the level of public support to the organisation, particularly in supporting its Childline service, which is expected to receive its call number 7m this year.