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We must not wait for a tragedy to happen before we overhaul child protection system

Further evidence that child protection should be removed from the HSE and given to a separate, dedicated body comes in a new leaked report.

The report, published by Fine Gael, shows that our child protection system is both broken and self-serving.

Here are a few points from the report by the PA Consulting Group and kept under wraps until this week:

  • Important decisions about children are being made by inexperienced local managers (team leaders).

  • There is no clear connection between senior management and the front line.

  • Even HSE personnel themselves don't know who is responsible for child protection.

  • The needs of the children themselves take second place to the needs of the system.

  • Children and their families find themselves dealing with "different services and agencies in different ways without the services conferring on what the child needs".

  • Staff in the most busy areas have less experience than staff in the least busy areas.

  • Social workers get inadequate support.

No wonder the HSE has been sitting on this report. It is like a prescription for how not to run a child protection service.

Consider how bizarre such a prescription would be: Make sure the people at the top are out of touch with the people working on the ground, that people don't know who to talk to, that we don't support the frontline workers. Oh, and let's put the least experienced workers into those areas where the demand is greatest.

You couldn't make it up, could you? That's the trouble. It isn't made up. It's for real.

It gets worse. Last week the Government's special rapporteur on child protection, Geoffrey Shannon, published a report on child protection.

Presumably he had a copy of that PA Consulting report to inform him as he was writing his own report?

Of course not. Mr Shannon was not given the report and indeed ended up suggesting that a review of the child protection services should be done. Nobody told him it had already been done -- by PA Consulting.


As I have said before about our child protection system, we are in Alice in Wonderland territory here. The clowning about that goes on with child protection makes the Mad Hatter's Tea Party look like a prayer meeting.

Except that what we are talking about here are the lives of children and the strong possibility that children's lives are being ruined while all this nonsense goes on.

How many children are suffering neglect and abuse because the system is so poor at handling complaints about them? How many social workers are leaving the field because they can no longer put up with what is going on? I suspect that this is part of the reason for the fact that the busiest areas are staffed by people with the shortest service. People burn out faster in these areas because neither they nor the children they work with are being properly supported.

Meanwhile, senior managers no doubt believe all is well, within reason, because they are cut off from the reality of what happens on the ground.

Why would it make a difference to give child protection to a separate body? First, its only job would be child protection whereas the HSE's day job is to run the health services.


How can you do that and give attention to child protection as well? Impossible.

Second, in a newly-designed body -- assuming the job is done right -- the people at the top would know what was happening in the field. So the whole system would run on a realistic basis and not on fantasy.

Third, such a body could be run by a board which could include people like Norah Gibbons of Barnardos and Geoffrey Shannon himself, people who would not be slow to spot what's going wrong and to kick up a fuss about it.

In the absence of such a body we are stuck with the HSE and with a child "protection" system which may be endangering more children than it is protecting.

Please let's not wait for a terrible tragedy to come to light before we do something about this.