Monday 23 April 2018

Over half of gardaí not trained in child protection, expert warns

Child welfare concerns: Professor Geoffrey Shannon. Photo: Damien Eagers
Child welfare concerns: Professor Geoffrey Shannon. Photo: Damien Eagers
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The level of child protection training provided to gardaí has been sharply criticised by a Government-appointed child protection expert.

Special rapporteur Dr Geoffrey Shannon said 53pc of gardaí who responded to an audit he conducted had not received any training in child protection.

He also said there were problems with the use of the Garda Pulse system, with no recordings to be found of 31 instances in 2014 where children were removed from their parents for their own safety after the cases were "misclassified".

Dr Shannon said he was concerned that there wasn’t a proper paper trail for these cases and that gardaí needed to be trained in how to properly input data in child protection cases.

“My view is that this raises question marks over the Pulse system and how we input into the Pulse system,” he told the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

Dr Shannon was being quizzed by politicians about his report on the use by gardaí of powers under Section 12 of the Childcare Act to remove children from their homes.

The report, published last May, found major shortcomings in the approach by both gardaí and Tusla to safeguarding vulnerable children.

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

Dr Shannon said there needed to be a complete review of how gardaí are trained.

“It is hugely important that we train our guards and that training doesn’t stop once the guards leave Templemore,” he said.

“My vision for a force that exercises such exceptional powers is that there should be mandatory continuing professional development for members of An Garda Síochána.”

The special rapporteur also called for the co-location of child protection services.

Tusla has already committed to seconding social workers to a special Garda child protection unit in a bid to improve cooperation and communication.

Dr Shannon also raised concerns about cases where gardaí received calls from social workers to intervene on Friday evenings, leaving them to deal with the situation on their own as social workers may not be available over the weekend.

He said this shouldn’t be happening, particularly if it relates to a child protection issue that has been festering during the week.

Dr Shannon was also critical of the lack of out of hours social work services in many parts of the country, saying only four counties have a full service.

He said there was “geographical injustice”, where the service available depends on where a person lives.

“I happen to believe that is not in keeping with the aspirations of the Irish people when they voted for a referendum to protect all our children, not just those in highly populated areas,” he said.

Dr Shannon’s report highlighted the impact alcohol abuse by parents and guardians has on children.

He challenged the Government to take firmer action on the issue.

“I do think there are strong vested interests in this area and what you need as politicians to do is to take on those interests to say child protection has to take precedence over big business.

“The delay in introducing legislation to tackle this issue is concerning and it has consequences.

“It has resulted in shattered lives for children and those childhoods can’t be regained. The time for action is now.”

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