Wednesday 22 November 2017

Children 'treated as human trash' let down by both Tusla and gardaí

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon. Photo: Damien Eagers
Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon. Photo: Damien Eagers
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Tusla social workers are being seconded to a special Garda child protection unit in a bid to address damning criticism of a lack of co-operation between the child and family agency and gardaí.

A report by the Government's Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, found major shortcomings in the approach to safeguarding vulnerable children by both agencies.

It found continually poor and limited levels of inter-agency co-operation and co-ordination between An Garda Síochána, Tusla and other agencies.

Because of this, children were "slipping through the net", he said. In some cases, children who were removed from their homes by gardaí for their own safety were subsequently returned there by Tusla.

Gardaí complained of not being informed of the outcome of cases after handing children into Tusla's care.

Responding to the report, Detective Superintendent Declan Daly of the Garda National Protection Services said a process had already begun of having Tusla staff seconded to a national child protection unit.

The report also outlined major frustrations gardaí have with gaps in out-of-hours social services. It recommended the development "as a matter of priority" of a social work service directly accessible to children or families outside of office hours.

The report examined 5,400 cases from 2014 and 2015 where gardaí used their powers under section 12 of the Child Care Act to remove children from their homes.

Gardaí can do this where they have a suspicion or concern a child is being abused, neglected, emotionally abused, sexually abused, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They can also intervene where there is a mental health issue with the child or their parents, or the parents are using substances leading to abuse or neglect.

Dr Shannon said some of the cases gardaí encountered were "shocking beyond belief", with children being "treated as human trash" by parents or guardians. "These children do not need our sympathy. They need action," he said.

Dr Shannon said the most frequent reason for gardaí having to intervene was the failure of parents. "This audit shines a light on a truth the Irish public is uncomfortable with. Parents can fail their children," he said.

He also highlighted how alcohol and substance abuse were major factors in many cases, and urged the Government "to take on vested interests" in relation to alcohol.

While praising the work of gardaí, the report found a number of issues of concern, the most serious of which was a lack of inter-agency co-operation.

It said there were inadequacies in the operation of the Garda Pulse system, with numerous gaps and flaws in the data captured. The report was also critical of the fact there was little or no emphasis on formal training of new Garda recruits in relation to child protection.

It was compiled at the request of Garda bosses following concerns about the removal by gardaí of two Roma children from their homes in 2013.

A previous report by then Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan found ethnic profiling played a role in their removal.

But Dr Shannon's report found no evidence that racial profiling influences the exercise of section 12 powers.

Irish Independent

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