HSE gets over 80 child concern reports per day

CARL O’BRIEN in The Irish Times

MORE THAN 80 cases of suspected child abuse or neglect are being reported every day to social services, figures show.

Family members with drink or alcohol problems are the most common concerns, followed by children with emotional or behavioural problems and parental neglect or inability to cope. Of the 30,000 child protection and welfare concerns annually, more than 16,000 are concerns over children’s welfare, while about 13,000 are child protection issues such as suspected abuse.

In addition, an unpublished breakdown of the origin of these reports shows for the first time the extent to which gardaí and teachers are encountering suspected abuse on a daily basis.

In the first quarter of this year, gardaí were responsible for reporting most cases (28 per cent), followed by teachers (15 per cent), Health Service Executive-designated officers (10 per cent) or other HSE services such as mental health (10 per cent).

The figures were compiled by the HSE as part of new standardised business processes, aimed at yielding more accurate information on child-protection services.

The volume of concerns being reported by teachers and gardaí is likely to focus policymakers on the need to improve communications between State agencies.

Poor information-sharing and a lack of inter-agency co-operation were highlighted as key issues in the recent Independent Child Death Review Group report.

However, social policy experts such as Dr Helen Buckley of Trinity College Dublin have raised concerns that new laws – such as the Children First Bill – will not address poor collaboration between agencies.

While the Bill will make it mandatory to report abuse or neglect, it will not require an obligatory response from services beyond the reporting of concerns, she has said.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday that improving collaboration and information-sharing between agencies was a priority.

However, she said a single piece of legislation would not tackle the issue on its own.

“Getting different agencies to work in partnership together is something that will be key to the new Child and Family Support Agency. We’re examining lots of ways of doing this more effectively,” she said.

“In the UK, they are beginning to include members of the police in child-protection teams, for example, and I think that’s the way things will go here. The idea that a social worker has do everything on their own isn’t the way to go.”