Ombudsman: Child protection not 'hard edge' within gardai
CHILD protection is not considered "hard edge" investigation work within the gardai, according to the Ombudsman for Children.
Emily Logan said this was illustrated in the high-profile Roma controversy last year when two children were taken into state care.
The case involving the Roma community in Ireland attracted widespread international attention and raised a number of key issues about the role of the gardai in this area.
Earlier this year, she conducted an inquiry into the matter.
"During the course of that investigation I met a number of guards who individually are responsible for child protection," she told independent.ie "I was very impressed with them and their commitment. But what I felt was that the role is not particularly recognised or valued within an Garda Siochana.
"It's not hard edge criminal garda work, but it really is critical."
She said there are 700 occasions annually when Gardai exercise the power to take a child who is deemed to be at immediate risk away from their family. "But it doesn't appear in any of the police commissioner's annual reports - dating back to the setting up of the child protection units within an Garda Siochana in 2006.
"I think it's important that the public know about it and that it is accounted for. "It should be also independently audited to make sure that we understand how it is being used. "It is very clear that child protection is not recognised or valued enough in terms of the contribution the guards can play,’’ she added.
"I got a very good sense from talking to a number of gardai that particular work isn't as valued as I think it should be.
"We place great value on the Child and Family Agency and their contribution to child protection - why should that not be the same for gardai."
Presenting her annual report, Ms Logan also said relevant authorities, such as the Department of Education and the Child and Family Agency, need to make "greater efforts" to inform parents of disabled children of their entitlements.
"They shouldn't have to seek it, that information should be made readily available,’’ she said.
Overall, there is a need to develop an "empathy" towards families who are trying to care for their children "in complex environments."
She also said the Oireachtas should encourage the Department of Education to be "more transparent" in the way "business is carried out."
"I'm not suggesting something underhand is happening, but efforts should be made to bring it in to proper parliamentary and democratic processes."
She said the next Ombudsman for Children should play a role in the new independent policing authority, so that the "really important issues of child protection and community policing" are not overlooked.
According to the office's annual report for 2013, it dealt with 1,677 complaints, an increase of 16pc since 2012.
Education (43pc) and family support, care and protection (26pc) were the two main categories of complaint.
Emily Logan is leaving her role as Children's Ombudsman to become the first chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.