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It's not enough to castigate our childcare system -- we must act decisively

l While the publication of the Independent Child Death Review Group's report this week is undoubtedly welcomed, its mere public disclosure does not guarantee that our society will adequately change its practices in dealing with our most vulnerable children.

The sheer scale of the findings shows a shocking lack of critical, early support in how the State's childcare system deals with at-risk children. But, to say that these findings are surprising would be misleading.

For more than 20 years many social workers at the frontline of our childcare services have been describing the difficulties and constrictions that have blocked them from adequately carrying out their potentially life-saving work. Often social workers have been forced to go beyond what was required, sometimes taking from their own pockets to help children at risk when management denied resources.

Meanwhile, the State's tight, parent-focused legislation often hampered staff trying to directly approach the child who may be in danger. In some cases, this reduced ability to intervene has led to terrifying consequences for the child and its family, many instances of which are laid out in harrowing detail in the report.

Since Focus Ireland published its research on children in care, 'Left Out On Their Own' in 1995, we have consistently campaigned and called for better services and a statutory right to aftercare for these children, but to no avail.

Since the report's publication, many negative descriptions have been attributed to the State's childcare system -- from Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald labelling it a "disgrace" to its authors calling it a "devastating indictment" of our social services. But while most of the public would agree with these descriptions, merely castigating the system does not go far enough.

Therefore, we must act decisively. The recommendations laid out in the Independent Child Death Review Group report must be acted upon as soon as possible. The era of virtual secrecy between state departments and agencies working in child protection must end, and the channels of communication between staff in this area need to be open and transparent. We need to do this, not just to protect the vulnerable children now in childcare institutions, but to help all the State's children. We must acknowledge all of them as our own, and care for them as such.

I welcome the Tanaiste's announcement of an autumn date for the much-anticipated and much-needed referendum on the rights of the child. Clearly, enshrining children's rights in our Constitution is essential. These rights must apply for all of our children, whatever their background or circumstance, so that those in the care of the State are entitled to the same rights, services, and welfare as every child in this country.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy
St Andrew's Street, Dublin 2

Irish Independent