Child protection report: 'We cannot fail children a second time', says Ombudsman for Children

Latest: The Ombudsman for children has urged State agencies to work together to improve services for young people following the publication of a child protection report today.

Child protection report: 'We cannot fail children a second time', says Ombudsman for Children

Update 4.45pm: The Ombudsman for children has urged State agencies to work together to improve services for young people following the publication of a child protection report today.

“The report published today, detailing the use by An Garda Síochána of their child protection powers clearly highlights an urgent need for improved interagency cooperation to protect young people”, said Dr Niall Muldoon.

Dr Muldoon was speaking following the publication of Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s audit of the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána.

“The audit of the Gardaí’s child protection powers under section 12 of the Child Care Act, carried out by Dr Geoffrey Shannon and as recommended by my predecessor, the former Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, makes for difficult, but vital reading.

“Overwhelmingly inadequate interagency cooperation is not good enough and must be addressed immediately. The failings highlighted by Dr Shannon, which include poor communication and a reluctance to share information, are unfortunately the same issues consistently raised in our dealing with Tusla.

“It is essential that all children receive the very best service available and that means that all professionals interacting with young people should be working together. It also means that a service should be available at all times, to all children.

“While I acknowledge that since this audit took place Tusla has started an out of hours service, this service is still inconsistent and overly reliant on private contractors who are refusing young people with addiction issues or who demonstrate challenging behaviour. A seamless and robust out of hours service is needed that provides an equal service to all children, regardless of their issues, in all parts of the country.

“I am also extremely concerned about the fact that 54% of young people who are taken into care under section 12, are removed to either a hospital or a Garda station. Neither of these locations is suitable for vulnerable children who have been through traumatic experiences.

“Examples of repeated section 12 orders relating to the same children shine a light on the fact that young people considered at risk by Gardaí are being returned to their parents or guardians, only to be removed again. It is vital that we ask why is this happening? Are Tusla following up appropriately on these cases, and are Gardaí being updated on why the young people were sent back?

    “It is time for the Government to really take this issue seriously. The recommendations from this report, and similar made by my office, in relation to interagency cooperation should now lead to real and constructive reform.

“It is my view that colocation of services should be seriously considered. This would bring all relevant professionals together, in one office and working towards one common goal- the welfare of children.

“I was very pleased to see that consideration of children’s rights in policing guidelines included as one of Dr Shannon’s recommendations. The invisibility of children and the lack of consideration of their views is starkly evident in the case studies included in this report. This must be addressed.

“The way we assess and meet the needs of our most vulnerable is a true reflection of our society. Children who are taken into the care of the state under the extraordinary powers of section 12 have already been failed, and we cannot fail them a second time.

“To quote Dr Shannon speaking at the launch today; Children don’t need our sympathy, they need our action.”

Update 12.20pm: Society and parents must take heed of the findings in today’s audit report into Ireland’s child protection system.

That is the view of the report author and Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon.

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon
Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon

Speaking during the unveiling of the report into 5,400 cases over the past eight years this Mr Shannon said while there are clear failings in the system which need to be addressed the real message is for society and parents.

"This report will shock middle Ireland because sometimes we live in a bubble ... The trauma inflicted on children by their parents sometimes is just staggering ...

"Children are treated like human trash ... I dont use those words lightly ... The narratives (in the report) do not sugar coat the barbaric treatment that some children suffer..."

Among other findings the audit says there needs to be an overhaul of the Pulse computer system and better training of Gardaí and criticises the use of Garda stations and hospitals as an initial ’place of safety’ for children removed from families.

11.38am: The ISPCC has released a statement claiming the report is of ’enormous significance’ and that ’urgent action’ is needed by Government to address the ’grave failings’.

"Today’s publication by An Garda Síochána of a report on the use of its emergency child protection powers demonstrates clearly how children are currently being failed by our State child protection systems," the statement said.

The comprehensive audit has been undertaken by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon. It considers 591 cases in 2014 where the Gardaí exercised emergency powers under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991, to remove a child to a place of safety.

91 examples of children for whom this power was exercised are described. It also includes an audit of the emergency child protection powers in 2015.

The report documents grave failings in Ireland’s child protection system, including:

        • A lack of adequate out-of-hours social work services, including lack of access to case files, to enable effective decisions about children’s safety to be taken in an informed way.
        • A lack of reliability of data captured on the Pulse system in relation to instances of section 12 removal of children.
        • A lack of adequate training, resourcing or support for Gardaí in exercising their statutory power to remove a child at risk of harm.
        • Lack of clarity around the different roles and responsibilities of both statutory bodies (Tusla and An Garda Síochána and low levels of meaningful communication between agencies involved in child protection: “In the absence of such cooperation and coordination, the very real potential exists that services designed to ensure children’s welfare and protection at a time when children are in most need of it will themselves cause further trauma…”
        • In the majority of districts, use of the Garda station as the ‘immediate place of safety to which a child is brought’; going against international good practice.
        • Use of private fostering service providers without a clear statutory basis for this; in some cases, refusals to accept placement of a child and no available out-of-hours service with a statutory obligation to take a child into care.

The report praises much of the practice of the small number of specialist child protection units in An Garda Síochána and practices of individual guards, including working long past rostered hours to support children, following up on placements, purchasing of essential items for children removed under section 12; while noting the lack of supports and training available to Gardaí, and the lack of information provided to them after a section 12 incident.

The report describes a “persistent perception among a number of Garda respondents that Tusla social workers sometimes delay addressing a particular risk to a child, in order to force the involvement of An Garda Síochána in the case due to the organisation’s 24-hour operational basis”.

Earlier: A new report shows ’systemic’ failings in our child protection system.

The audit of more than 5,400 cases over the past eight years, looked at the removal of children from their families by the Gardaí.

It found many officers were poorly trained and there was a serious weakness in procedures after children had been removed.

Tusla’s out of hours social work has been labelled inadequate, as some children had to wait in hospital for services to reopen, while others were returned to the home they’d been removed from.

The audit by the Gardaí was ordered after the removal of two blonde Roma children from their parents in Tallaght in 2013.

File photo.
File photo.

Interim CEO of the ISPCC, Caroline O’Sullivan, says children blame themselves for the system’s failings.

"These children have been living in very difficult circumstances, they were already vulnerable.

"They have been traumatised by their experience, traumatised by the fact that they are being removed by the Gardaí, and in many cases not having a social worker with them.

"Then they are being put into a Garda station so these children then, how can they look at this any other way than - I have done something wrong here," she said.

Tusla have released the following statement:

          “An inter-agency approach to child protection is of paramount importance to ensure children in need of support receive a timely, appropriate and proportionate response. Tusla - Child and Family Agency continues to work with agencies, organisations, families, and communities to ensure the needs of each child are met and the best possible outcome is achieved. Tusla is committed to building on the existing relationships and joint approaches developed with all agencies and organisations. An Garda Siochána is a crucial partner in the area of child protection and both agencies have distinct functions, powers, responsibilities and methods of working. Much of the research for this audit was done over the past number of years and collaboration and services have significantly improved since that time. This report was commissioned for an Garda Siochána, and Tusla was not involved in its production. No Tusla staff were interviewed as part of this audit.

          Joint working between Tusla and an Garda Siochána forms an integral part of the child protection and welfare service. There are many excellent examples at a local level of Tusla staff and members of an Garda Siochána working collaboratively. Additionally, at a national level, there are regular strategic liasion meetings between Tusla and an Garda Siochana. These meetings facilitate appropriate information sharing.

          A robust joint working protocol is being developed by Tusla and an Garda Siochana specifically in relation to Section12. This protocol will build on the existing positive relationship, and will provide extensive guidance on a range of issues including: when to invoke Section 12, children at risk during office hours, delivering a child to the custody of Tusla during office hours, delivering a child to the custody of Tusla out of hours. This protocol is being developed in line with the new Children First guidance and the Children First Act.

          As part of our commitment to an inter-agency, early intervention approach we created Prevention, Partnership and Family Support (PPFS) - a wide-ranging programme of preventative work to ensure that all organisations / individuals involved in a child’s life actively work together and with the child and family to intervene early and ensure that local supports are put in place to ensure the child and family receive the necessary response, in an integrated, coordinated and easily accessible.

          Tusla developed an Emergency Out of Hours Service which has been operational since November 2015 (replacing an older system). The purpose of the EOHS is to co-operate with and support the Garda Síochána in the execution of their duties and responsibilities under section 12(3) of the Child Care Act, 1991 and referrals made under Sect 8.5 of the Refugee Act, 1996.

          Currently, counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow and Cork North Lee and South Lee have an out of hours social work service in place. The Emergency Out of Hours Service is available outside of these counties.”

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