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When HSE says it can't save our children from abuse, then it's time we looked elsewhere

DO we need another quango? Yes we do -- to protect children who are abused or at risk of abuse.

That, it seems to me, is clear from this week's statement by Maeve Lewis, executive director of One In Four, that the HSE is turning down pleas to investigate alleged sexual abuse because of staff shortages.

It's an astonishing statement and it's a lot more disturbing than the question of whether our Taoiseach did or did not have a hangover during a radio interview.

Sexual abuse brings years of pain into the lives of children and some are destroyed. One In Four knows about all this because it provides support for men and women who have been sexually abused.


So when the organisation complains that, for instance, the HSE has written to abuse victims saying it does not have the staff with which to investigate their claims, we need to take notice.

Add to this the fact that social workers themselves and the Ombudsman for Children have all alleged that serious concerns about the safety of children are going uninvestigated by the HSE and what we have on our hands is a continuing scandal.

That's why I say we need another quango. By this I mean a separate body to take over the whole child protection function of the HSE, to streamline it and to make it work as effectively as possible within whatever resources are allocated to it.

If these resources shrink -- and it is very hard to see how they are going to do anything else -- then giving them to an effective, efficient organisation becomes more important than ever.

We are in an anti-quango era in which we have all become fed up with the proliferation of state agencies for this, that and the other. The HSE was designed to replace a whole raft of quangos so to ask for another quango to take over child protection is to fly in the face of official policy. But be sure that children are suffering neglect and abuse right now because the HSE is not doing an effective child protection job. Not only the adult world but the State is failing these children.


The HSE is preoccupied with hospital and other health services and I don't blame it for that -- health services, not child protection, bring people on to the streets and get politicians jumping up and down looking for attention.

I wonder how much time has the HSE's own board given to child protection over the past few years? I am quite sure it was relatively little. I wonder how often is child protection discussed at the highest levels of the HSE? Not very often, I suspect. As I say, this is understandable: child protection should never have been dumped on an organisation which already had the difficult task of running the Irish health service.


Why would a separate body, another quango, make a difference?

Because it would have one focus only and that would be the protection of children. Whether the surgical department of such and such a hospital should be closed would be a matter of complete indifference to it.

Moreover, that body could start its life with a transfer of social workers, childcare workers, other professionals and funding from the HSE.

There is no big net, extra cost to doing this.

With that expertise, with that single-minded focus, the new body could work far more effectively to protect children. That's a prize worth aiming for.

The establishment of a separate body is increasingly supported in the child protection sector and I have no doubt that one day it will come. What is really important is that the day when child protection is put on a proper footing should not be years down the line.

With every day that passes, another life is damaged. This is urgent.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy