'HSE is incapable of protecting children,' says expert
ONE of the experts reviewing the deaths of children in care has claimed that the HSE is incapable of fulfilling its role of protecting children.
Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at the children's charity Barnardo's, delivered a damning indictment of a service she described as "confused and unwieldy" at the MacGill Summer School yesterday.
"There is a lack of leadership, a lack of clear national standards, a lack of a clear assessment model and no national agreement on the threshold we as a nation want to set in respect of protecting our children," she said.
Ms Gibbons is one of two people currently reviewing the deaths of children who were, or had recently been, in the care of the HSE at the time of their deaths, or who were known to the child-welfare system.
She is chairing the HSE inquiry into the childcare case in Roscommon.
Referring to last week's HIQA report on foster care, Ms Gibbons quoted Minister for Children Barry Andrews, acknowledging management failings within the HSE.
"He has worked hard in many ways to improve things for children in need of protection. He is still of the view that the HSE is the only way to go.
"Well, minister, I have to disagree. I know the arguments that child welfare and protection services need to work closely together, that communication between disciplines is essential, but the evidence all points in one direction -- the HSE is not fit for the purpose of protecting the welfare of children, it is not fit for the task," she said.
She told delegates that the HSE had been established at arm's length from the Department of Health, and had "no clear leadership with specific expertise in the area of child welfare and protection".
While welcoming the minister's announcement of the appointment of a national director for child and family services, she warned that unless the director was supported nationally and regionally she or he was likely to fail.
"They are going into a confused and unwieldy system that is much more committed, with some notable exceptions, to protecting itself than to protecting children," she said.
The child-welfare advocate stressed that there needed to be a serious examination on how the child-protection system could be overhauled. "Without drastic re-focusing and real intention to change, our system will continue to fail children across Ireland," she said.