Monday 25 September 2017

Child 'slapped and thrown in the air in takeaway' among 5,400 cases of children being taken from family, new audit shows

A forensic audit of gardaí's use of Section 12 powers is due to be published today, here is everything you need to know

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A report due to be published this morning has found that a significant overhaul is needed in Ireland's child protection system due to "chronic" failures. Here is everything we know so far:

Background:

The report was commissioned to examine gardaí's use of Section 12 legislation - which is used when there is no social work service available for vulnerable children and where it is believed there is a serious risk to the child.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sulloban commissioned the report after the publication of a separate report by the Children's Ombudsman into two fair-haired Roma children who were taken from their families by gardaí who wrongly suspected they had been abducted in 2013.

The Government's Special Rapporteur on Children, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, penned the report and it will be published in full later this morning.

Main findings:

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. Picture: Tom Burke
Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. Picture: Tom Burke

The report is highly critical of both gardaí and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, RTÉ reports.  Communications between the two bodies was also found to be lacking, adding to the chaos in the system. More than 5,4000 cases of child removals over eight years were examined in the audit.

It found:

  • Children are often taken from their families by gardaí only to be returned to them by Tusla.
  • Children are often forced to spend the night in garda stations or adult hospitals due to a lack of out of hours social care services.
  • A lack of training for gardaí in dealing with vulnerable children.
  • Inadequacies in the PULSE system used by gardaí in relation to Section 12 cases.

Some harrowing cases which required garda intervention were also detailed in the report, many of them involving substance abuse.

In one incident, a child was slapped and thrown into the air in a fast food restaurant, and when gardaí intervened the child was found to be partially clothed, malnourished and saturated with urine.

In another incident a one-year old child was discovered wandering unaccompanied in a housing estate because their mother was intoxicated.

Response:

Tusla has released a statement this morning which says "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 Siochana, and Tusla was not involved in its production. No Tusla staff were interviewed as part of this audit".

The agency said there are mechanisms in place to ensure effective collaboration.

"There are many excellent examples at a local level of Tusla staff and members of an Garda Siochana 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," the agency said.

It says a new out-of-hours service has been in place since November 2015.

Meanwhile, Children's Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said it was "seriously inappropriate" for children to be brought to a garda station instead of a warm and welcoming place.

Speaking on RTE Radio One Mr Muldoon said he would not comment on whether Tusla was fit for purpose as he had not seen the full report.

Interim CEO at the ISPCC Caroline O'Sullivan took to Twitter to describe the use of hospitals and Garda stations as “wholly inappropriate for vulnerable children and that  it’s a “clear risk of retraumatization”

The Children's Rights Alliance highlighted that "overall Professor Shannon finds that the Gardaí do exercise their powers proportionately and provide a vital safety net for children when all else fails. This is a very important finding. At the same time, he found no strategic approach to child protection and individual Gardaí are not trained in child protection."

The alliance called for the report to be debated in the Dáil and for urgent action to be taken.

What now?

A joint working protocol is being developed by Tusla and an Garda Siochana specifically in relation to Section12. This protocol 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.

The report is due to be launched later today at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

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