Tuesday 25 October 2016

Eilish O'Regan: Corners cut as grim choices have to be made

Published 14/04/2016 | 02:30

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Stolen childhood and official regret. The bleak cycle of vulnerable children who have been let down has again left our social services facing devastating criticism.

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But the outrage over this latest case will, as ever, subside and child protection will retreat back under the public radar.

It is hugely complex area and one most people feel ill-equipped to grasp - despite the spate of scandals during the past decade.

The statement by Fred McBride, the chief executive of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, that it may be possible to leave children in a foster home after an abuser has been removed, caught many by surprise.

The knee-jerk reaction among those who are not trained in child protection and welfare would be to cut off all contact with the family. However, he pointed out that as long as the safety of the child is secure, the kindest action may be to leave them in a home where they have bonded and made emotional attachments.

It is the kind of judgment call nobody wants to make.

But the reality is that social workers operate constantly with a margin of risk in these cases. The welfare of the child must always be paramount and the unorthodox action may be the one which is best in the circumstances for them.

Figures obtained by this newspaper show that around one third of children who are taken into care by the State are there for five years or more.

That is a huge chunk of childhood - and the lucky ones are fostered in a loving family, or a minority in secure residential care after coming from troubled homes.

The problem is how well-assessed these homes are.

The majority of foster families provide a wonderful haven for children.

But as we know from various Hiqa inspections, many social services continue to be beset with a lack of social workers, a huge and often crushing workload of families at various stages of crisis, and waiting lists.

It is inevitable that corners will have to be cut and that the kind of checks and ongoing vetting, as well as monitoring of the placements of all of these children, will not take place.

It emerged yesterday that some foster families have not been visited by social services for 15 years.

All of that is high risk but is inevitable in a situation where grim choices are often made.

There is also a problem with a turnover of social workers in the area of social protection and the burnout felt by staff who are not able to deliver the kind of service that is needed to fully enable and support families.

There is an institutional aversion to the assignation of blame across our health and social services.

Lessons have been learned.

But the pressures felt by those who must decide if a child should stay in a home where they were once abused should not have to be made when the resources available to them are still so inadequate.

Irish Independent

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