Child Welfare and Protection
Children in care are those children who are not living with their families but are in the care of the State. This includes those in residential care, foster care, hostel, high support and special care. They are a vulnerable group of children and as a result a child centred, comprehensive child protection service with sufficient supports and professionals must be in place to assist these children through childhood and into adulthood.
- In January 2016 there were 6,371 children living in care and 93% of these had an allocated social worker and 91% had a written care plan in place. (Source: Tusla Monthly Performance and Activity Dashboard January 2016)
- In January 2016 there were 25,568 open child welfare and protection cases and 5,987 had not been allocated a social worker (Tusla’s target is 134 not allocated a social worker). Of these unallocated cases 956 were deemed high priority and 444 of these cases had been waiting for three months or more. (Source: Tusla Monthly Performance and Activity Dashboard January 2016)
- In 2014, there was 43,630 child welfare and protection referrals received by social workers, this was an increase of 48% since 2011. (Tusla Quarterly National Performance Activity Report Q1 2015)
- Of the cases referred to Tusla in 2014 57% (24,922) were child welfare cases and 43% (18,708) were child abuse cases. (Tusla Quarterly National Performance Activity Reports Q1 2015 & Q4 2014)
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency
The legislation establishing the Child and Family Agency was agreed in December 2013 and the Agency became operational in January 2014. This dedicated agency of reforming child welfare and protection is a positive development as it incorporates key agencies such as Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board and is separate from the huge entity that is the HSE. The success to this agency will be its ability to respond to situations before they reach crisis point, effectively intervening earlier to prevent significant or ongoing harm or abuse occurring. Unfortunately it was underfunded from the outset and the first 24 months have been witness to long waiting lists and frontline staff forced to focus on crisis intervention instead of prevention and early intervention. We will continue to monitor the impact extra funding in Budget 2016 has in relation to this concern.
All children deserve to grow up in an environment free from harm and abuse and for their childhood to be cherished and enjoyed. Children and young people are among the most vulnerable members of our society, and that is why it is a societal responsibility to ensure our laws, policies and services offer the best protection to insulate them from those who would exploit or harm them. However, unfortunately child abuse does occur and can take may forms including neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Children First Act 2015
The Children First Act 2015 was signed into law in November 2015 and gives a very clear message that child protection is an absolute priority for us all and we will not tolerate anything which compromises this. The Act obliges certain professionals and others working with children to report child protection concerns to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and to assist the Agency, if required, in its assessment of a child protection risk. The Act obliges providers of children’s services to undertake an assessment of the potential for risk of harm to a child while that child is availing of its services and to prepare an appropriate Child Safeguarding Statement. However we are aware that in order for the Children First Act 2015 to be truly effective the law must be accompanied by information and guidelines for all those affected to ensure compliance. There also needs to be a consideration of Tusla’s ability to respond to the likely increase in child welfare and protection referrals bearing in mind their already precarious budgeting situation.
Prevention and Early Intervention
Intervening early can mean working with a family when the child is very young or it can mean engaging with them before a problem intensifies. It ensures that appropriate supports are offered on a timely basis. It can include a range of measures such as family support services including parenting and budgeting, addiction support services, mental health services and domestic violence supports.
Crisis Intervention Supports
The Child and Family Agency offers social work services and manages the supports for children taken into care. It is compulsory for all children in care to have an allocated social worker and a care plan draw up for them. Extra child protection social workers have been recently recruited but more are needed. The case loads remain high often resulting in cases not being assessed quickly enough or the most serious cases receiving attention leaving little opportunity to engage with families early on.
The absence of a comprehensive nationwide Out of Hours Social Work Service remains a concern as many incidences requiring social work intervention with families occur outside office hours. The current provision is very ad hoc, relying on emergency foster care placement where available and the use of Garda services in other cases. The failure of the system to respond to calls for assistance from both families and children out-of-hours potentially puts children’s well-being and lives at risk.
The provision of aftercare services in Ireland remains very patchy. These are services that are provided to young people in the care system to assist them with preparing to leave care and support them in moving from care to an independent adult life. The wide range of supports needed include financial, accommodation, health supports, training and education and general advice and information. Young people leaving the care system are particularly vulnerable and the absence of supports leaves them exposed to risks of homelessness, drug / alcohol addiction, prostitution or imprisonment. Through changes in legislation, it is envisaged that it will be compulsory for every care leaver to be entitled to have an aftercare plan drawn up. While this is a positive move it is essential that the services identified as being needed are available and offered to the care leaver.
Policies and Submissions
- Submission on Child and Family Relationships Bill - February 2014