Agencies say HSE 'not fit' to protect children
THE ability of the Health Service Executive to protect vulnerable children was questioned yesterday.
Two of the country's largest children's agencies called for sweeping changes to fix what they described as a "broken" child-protection system.
Barnardos claimed that issues that had recently come to light, indicating that the HSE was not "fit for purpose" when it came to child protection.
The ISPCC said that despite the "fantastic" people working within the HSE, its structures were not protecting children.
Both agencies, which yesterday addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, painted a grim picture of childcare services. Norah Gibbons of Barnardos said the country needed a "vision" of what it was going to offer children and their families.
They demanded a 24-hour child protection service; legislation to speed up the vetting of childcare workers; and the long-awaited referendum on children's rights.
Following the hearing, the committee said it would contact Taoiseach Brian Cowen to seek clarification on the proposed referendum.
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay warned that without "drastic refocusing and real intention to change, our system will continue to fail children across Ireland."
He said: "There is a huge and growing gap between the lip service we pay to policy and implementation where it really matters."
He claimed that it was unclear who was politically accountable for vulnerable children and families.
ISPCC chief Ashley Balbirnie warned that its Childline services could not be sustained unless financial difficulties were tackled.
The service received more than 800,000 calls last year but got no government funding.
"We sought funding last year of between €1m and €2m and offered to raise half that ourselves if the department would match it. There was a resounding 'no'," he said.
According to the agency, there were 405,978 calls to its Childline service in the six months to June 2009.
Of the calls, a "staggering" 79pc were received outside the hours of nine to five.