HSE's crucial childcare errors highlighted in report
THE Children's Ombudsman has identified a series of fundamental failures by the Health Service Executive in implementing crucial child protection measures.
A lack of local procedures to deal with concerns or 24-hour access to monitoring systems for children at risk, as well as poor co-operation between the HSE and gardai, have all been identified by Ombudsman Emily Logan.
The findings were released yesterday in the ombudsman's report on the implementation of the 'Children First' guidelines for the protection and welfare of children. Despite 13 years having passed since these were originally published for state agencies, the progress of implementation has been heavily criticised.
"It is the view of the Ombudsman for Children that much needs to be done to improve protection and promote children's rights and welfare," the report stated.
"A fundamental change in culture and attitude towards child protection (is needed) more generally."
The review examined a lack of official local procedures across the country and noted that it was very difficult to ascertain how good each "on the ground" approach worked.
The Child Protection Notification System (CPNS) -- a database containing information from healthcare workers and gardai on children deemed to be at risk -- came under particular scrutiny.
"The Ombudsman for Children is greatly concerned that in most parts of the State there is no 24-hour access to the CPNS," the report said.
"This means that the Garda Siochana and A&E departments in hospitals cannot check out of hours if a child about whom they have concerns is on the CPNS.
"At present, it is only in the former Southern Health Board (Cork/Kerry) area that there is evidence of external 24-hour CPNS access."
The report also confirmed previous findings that the HSE and gardai were not adequately working together.
"While many areas have informal co-operation, this can be dependent on personal relationships," it said.
"In almost no part of the State are joined action sheets implemented. These sheets are meant to record who is responsible for what (when both are involved in an investigation)."
A national lack of social workers, and industrial relations disputes have also been tagged as reasons for the poor implementation of guidelines on a practical level.
It criticised the historical absence of serious case file reviews.
"This office only has evidence that one region of the State did this in 2003/4," the report said, referring to the Cork/Kerry area.
"The findings of this audit were worrying. For example, screening of child protection reports was taking an average of 21 days -- which meant that urgent cases might not be speedily identified," it said.
"This office concludes that insufficient efforts were made to drive forward implementation of Children First by the HSE internally."
Last night the HSE said it accepted the findings of the report and welcomed the analysis of the situation.