Saturday 14 December 2019

There will be other Roscommons, other children endure agony

We are doomed to repeat awful failures because the child-protection system doesn't work, says Phil Mac Giolla Bhain

WHAT happens when a serious systemic problem that everyone knows about is not tackled? Simple. We get to relive the same events over and over.

When the 'Roscommon incest' case came to court in January 2009, I was interviewed by Ivan Yates, the former Fine Gael TD on the radio show The Right Hook.

Ivan opened the interview by stating that he was "shocked and disturbed" about the details of the case.

I told him I didn't share his shock, because the word "shock" implies surprise. I was not surprised at the details of the Roscommon case, nor am I surprised by the findings of last week's High Court inquiry into the case.

Despite all of this forensic scrutiny and reportage, the basic truth remains unstated: social workers are not professionals.

I know this because I was a social worker for over a decade.

Unlike a medic, a solicitor, a nurse or a teacher, social work does not pass any objective test of being a profession. Outside the State structures, social workers have no economic value.

There is no private practice in social work. The idea that a person would seek out a social worker and hire them to avail of their skills is, quite frankly, bizarre.

In the free market, social workers have no value because no one would hire them. Social workers are neither properly trained nor skilled at what they are supposed to do on our behalf.

What is taught on social work courses is a mishmash of feminist ideology and simplistic leftwing "explanations" of human behaviour.

My own experience as a social work student in Swansea University in 1989, as a practice teacher in Glasgow in 1995, and a social work lecturer in the University of Ulster for an academic year in 1998, has taught me that social work courses are stuck in a mental universe that ordinary people would not recognise.

Consequently, we have people in posts that cannot fulfil the vital core function for which the State pays them, protecting children who are at risk.

The Government is well aware of these facts. I know. I told them.

When he was appointed, I wrote to Minister Barry Andrews and shared with him my experience of the State-run child protection services. The letter was a two-page critique of the structural issues and systemic failures at the heart of health board-run services. There was also an implicit offer to help. After waiting two months for a reply, I was informed by letter from the minister's office that my letter would be passed to the HSE and, the minister was sure that the contents of said letter would be very helpful.

At the time of the mother's court case, Mary Harney asked for a full report from the HSE on the Roscommon case.

Why? What did she need to know?

She knew then everything she needed to know about the child protection services, and has known for several years. The child protection service in this State is not fit for purpose. Roscommon is no aberration.

The children in the Roscommon case were caught in a perfect storm of ideology and inertia.

The kids were being neglected, but no one moved to act decisively to safeguard the children. The "parent" was a female so, in the feminist mindset of social work, was "oppressed" and was therefore deserving of social work sympathy.

As a female, she would not be suspected of being a sexual predator. In the social work worldview, women cannot be guilty of such crimes, but clearly they can be.

There will be other Roscommon cases. There are, undoubtedly, other children currently enduring agonies, and those children are known to the child protection services yet they are not removed.

It is easy to hide behind the constitutional protections of the family or complain about the intervention of pro-family religious groups.

To focus on these issues takes the public's gaze away from social workers who resist providing a 24/7 service and instead prefer to work office hours for their own convenience.

Like Letterfrack and Goldenbridge, everyone knows what the problem is, but nothing has been done.

Moreover, nothing will be done because these children are less important than the interests of these well-paid public servants.

Had the Roscommon case happened in Britain then, at the very least, senior people in the social work system would pay with their jobs.

In the 'Baby P' case, three people from Haringey council either resigned or were sacked. Who resigned in Roscommon? Who was sacked?

Last week, it emerged the six children, four of whom are still in care as they are minors, informally met a High Court judge, Mr Justice John MacMenamin.

During the meeting the children said all they wanted "was that their voices be heard" and asked why their pleas for help were not taken seriously.

One of the abused children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, asked: "Why are they listening to us now and they didn't before?"

One definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

If anyone in our Government is surprised by the Roscommon case, then they are not fit for purpose either. Meanwhile, vulnerable, at-risk children in this society are in a nightmarish Groundhog Day.

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is a qualified social worker. He has worked in the UK and in Ireland as a social worker, a family support worker and a team leader. He is now a journalist and author.

www. philmacgiollabhain. com

Sunday Independent

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