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News 2015

By Evelyn Ring
Irish Examiner Reporter

Almost one in five children waiting more than a month for a dedicated social worker is in serious danger of neglect and physical or sexual abuse, it has emerged.

Sinn Féin TD, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, he was very concerned that a “staggering” 5,585 children were waiting over a month to be allocated a social worker.

Mr Ó Caoláin said 1,087 of the children were classified as “high risk” and called on Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to address the issue so as to avoid excessive delays.

“There are 3,504 children of varying degrees of need — high, medium and low, waiting more than three months and we don’t know how far beyond three months many of those might be — 606 of those are classified as high risk,” said Mr Ó Caoláin.

Describing the situation as totally unacceptable, Mr Ó Caoláin said he would be concerned if there were only six of the children described as high risk, never mind 606.

The chief executive of Tusla, Gordon Jeyes, said they were some local recruitment difficulties in more remote parts of the country.
“For example, I know we are currently running a more specific and bespoke campaign for Sligo,” said Mr Jeyes.
Tusla chief operations manager, Fred McBride, said a significant backlog of cases in Laois and Offaly had been reported to the board of Tusla and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly.
Mr McBride said they were not sure of the status of the backlog or of the priority and level of risk associated with the cases, so a special team had been brought in to “blitz” it within a very short time.
He had taken personal responsibility for the situation in the Midlands and a new area manager and service director was now in place.
Mr Jeyes said the out-of-hours social work service was up and running.


© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved


Children’s deaths ‘not related’ to quality of Tusla’s care

Posted by annetteburrowes on November 30, 2015

Report finds 26 children died while known to protection services last year, a five-year high

The report said it was notable that the three young people who died whilst in care all died from suicide. Photograph: Thinkstock

The report said it was notable that the three young people who died whilst in care all died from suicide. Photograph: Thinkstock

 
 
 
 The deaths of children while in the care of the State were not “related directly to the quality of the service that they received from Tusla”, the agency’s interim director of strategy and policy has said.Cormac Quinn, speaking on RTÉ radio on Sunday, said however there was “learning” to be taken from the National Review Panel annual report for 2014, which found 26 children died last year while in State care, in aftercare or while known to the protection services.It is the highest number of deaths of such children in the last five years.Mr Quinn said: “The issue of assessment is certainly something that we have to look at . . . There is definitely learning from the reports in terms of the quality of assessment that we need to be looking at.”Responding to comments from Robert Troy, Fianna Fáil spokesman for children, that children were dying due to inadequate resourcing of Tusla, Mr Quinn said the agency’s budget had increased from €643 million this year, to €676 million for next year. This increased funding would be targeted at recruiting more social workers, improving the quality of services and an enhanced focus on early intervention and prevention, he said.The report from the National Review Panel found eight of the 26 children who died in 2014 children had died by suicide and eight of natural causes. Five children were killed in road crashes, two died by homicide, one by drug overdose, one death was described as “other accident” and in another, the cause was not established.Of those who died, 18 were boys and eight were girls. And 80 per cent were 16 years or under and more than 70 per cent were categorised as “known to the child protection service”.The report said it was notable that the three young people who died whilst in care all died from suicide.Case reviewsDuring 2014, the panel, chaired by Prof Helen Buckley, also examined the deaths of four children and young people in particular.A major review was conducted in the case of a 19-year-old who had been in care since he was eight years old and who died of a drug overdose.The panel found his needs were not met through contact with the then HSE childcare services, there was too much responsibility left with his family, and frontline practice was weak, with weaknesses in management and accountability.A second review into the death of a young person, found he had been allowed to remain too long in an environment where drug use was the norm, with a parent who could not keep him safe or meet his needs.“An earlier admission to care would have better protected him,” the panel concluded.A third review, into the death of a toddler in a domestic accident, found some positive practice, but an absence of planning. The case had remained on a waiting list without much prospect of allocation, the report said.The fourth review involved the death of a child with a disability from a terminal illness.The then HSE had taken High Court proceedings to dispense with parental consent for treatment of the child. The panel found social work services had demonstrated very strong commitment to fulfilling the child’s rights.The annual report also showed that of the 103 children and young people in care, aftercare or known to protection services that died in the last five years, 28 died by suicide. Eight children and young people died of drug overdose and five by homicide.Among the panel’s recommendations, which had been repeated in earlier reports, were suicide prevention programmes for Tusla staff, and easier access to therapeutic services for young people who had emotional difficulties, but who did not meet the criteria for mental health services.

Findings of IFCA 2015 Support Service survey now available

Posted by annetteburrowes on November 26, 2015

In June/July of this year, IFCA carried out a survey on the Emotional and Psychological Support Needs of Carers, the children in their care, and their families.  We determined that it was important to collect data that reflected the experiences of foster carers in 2015 and to allow for carers to voice their opinions and suggestions on the issue. 

The comprehensive findings are now available to view here:

We received an impressive volume of responses – considerably higher than for previous research carried out.  IFCA would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their stories (positive & negative!), concerns and issues.  We appreciate your feedback and input and hope that you find the finished report informative.


IFCA Support Helpline: 1000 cases in 2015

Posted by annetteburrowes on November 26, 2015

As of today, our support helpline has handled its 1000th case in 2015.  The helpline continues to be a valuable resource for all those involved in Foster care.  The volume of inbound contacts through phone and email (with occasional personal callers to head office) is currently 49% higher than last year.  We believe this is due to an increased awareness of the service.  We would like to thank all those who have shared their concerns with us and we look forward to continuing our support and service to all those who require it. 

We would also like to acknowledge our appreciation of our numerous helpline and national support volunteers. Our support service is dependent on their ongoing time and commitment and we are very grateful to have them with us.

Thanks!

Peter

Support Service Development Worker


Tuesday 20th October 2015

Dr. James Reilly TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs today welcomes the publication of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015 which, among other things, will provide for a statutory right to an aftercare plan for eligible children and young people for the first time.

Minister Reilly said:

“I am delighted to have this Bill published and look forward to bringing it before the Oireachtas for consideration. This Bill builds on the progress made in relation to the provision of aftercare in the recent past and will provide, as a right, for eligible children and young people to have a plan for their transition from State care into independent living, prepared by Tusla the Child and Family Agency.”

Aftercare is the term used to describe the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person who is leaving statutory care at 18 years of age, to assist him or her in making the transition to independent living.

The Bill obliges Tusla, the Child and Family Agency to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or eligible young person. Tusla will, when the Bill is enacted, have a duty to identify the child or young person’s need for assistance and to prepare a plan that identifies the relevant aftercare supports.

Under the provisions contained in the Bill, the Child Care Act 1991 will be amended and an obligation placed on the Child and Family Agency:

(i) to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child before they reach the age of 18,
   
(ii) to prepare an aftercare plan, on request, for an eligible adult aged 18, 19 or 20 , and
   
(iii) in relation to an eligible adult to review the operation of an aftercare plan where there has been a change in that adult’s circumstances or additional needs have arisen.

Minister Reilly further added:

“A decade ago aftercare was non-existent. We have now moved to the point where young people leaving care will have a right to an aftercare plan. This has come about in recognition of the particular challenges linked to moving into independent adult living – challenges shared by all young people but that may prove a greater hurdle for some leaving State care. This Bill is a significant development.  This Bill, the establishment of Tusla and the very positive responses received from key stakeholders in terms of recognising and responding to the particular vulnerability attached to some care leavers lays the foundations for better aftercare support.”


Govt warned about 'serious risks' to children

Posted by annetteburrowes on October 5, 2015

 Sunday 04 October 2015 22.39

Tusla warns that children at 'serious risk'Tusla warns that children at 'serious risk'

The Government has been warned of serious risks to children and child protection services by Tusla, the National Child and Family Agency. In an unpublished briefing document to Cabinet, seen by RTÉ's This Week, Tusla warns that children at "serious risk" are in danger of "serious harm".

It says the agency is "in default of its statutory obligations" due to the pressure being placed on child and family support services.

The document, which was presented to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Policy and Public Service Reform chaired by the Taoiseach, lays out in stark terms Tusla's inability to meet agreed standards for all children referred to the agency and warns of more children needing more costly high-support services if investment is not made in early intervention.

Further funding cuts to services provided by community and voluntary sector will also have to be made if the Agency's funding is not increased, the paper warns. Such organisations provide Tusla with rape crisis, domestic violence and family support services. The briefing paper calls for €19.4m to be invested over a three year period to fund cases where children and families have no allocated social worker.
A study conducted by Tusla found that there were 8,865 such cases in 2014, of which 1,731 were classified as "high priority".
Half of all high priority cases had been waiting more than three months for an allocated social worker, far in excess of the recommended 21 day timeframe.
As a result of the pressure on social work services the Agency is "carrying a significant level of known and unknown risks to children".
Both the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Tusla say that emergency cases are dealt with, where there is an immediate risk to the life of a child.
However, the document warns that children who are in "serious risk" may become emergency cases if resource needs for early intervention are not met.
Under the heading "Risks", the document warns:
"Children at serious risk are not being identified in a timely manner and this can result in serious harm to a child and/or greater public expenditure later.
Children requiring a support service are not being diverted to more appropriate services and as their circumstances deteriorate, their needs are not being met.
Children may later access child protection investigations, mental health services, detention or special care when earlier more cost effective interventions would have prevented this.
Tusla projects that increasing pressure will be placed on services with mandatory reporting aspects of Children First child protection legislation, which is currently before the Oireachtas.
Child protection and welfare referrals to State child and family services have more than doubled in the three years from 2011 to 2014 from 21,000 to 43,000.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has echoed Tusla's concerns in its own internal risk register, which was released to This Week under FOI.

The register warns of a risk that "Children First legislation will be partially or poorly implemented" and "implementation of the mandatory aspects of Children First would lead to an increase in pressures on the child protection system, impacting on children and affecting public confidence in the child protection system".
Prior to Budget 2015 the Tusla Chief Executive Gordon Jeyes said the Agency would need €45m to keep services at a "standstill" level.
The Agency's 2015 budget allocation was increased by €26m to €635m.
The children's charity Barnardos has previously estimated Tusla was underfunded by €50-60m at its foundation.
The cost of legal services and guardians ad litem are among the Agency's significant costs. 

Tusla's briefing document to Cabinet warns resources are also being diverted from foster care and family support into critical cases, resulting in greater risk to children and a higher cost to the State.
The cost of high-support residential services is €500,000 annually, according to the Agency, which it estimates is enough to provide an estimated 500 families with earlier parenting and family support.
The Cabinet Sub-Committee has been warned that Tusla cannot meet the shortfall in services from within current resources and staffing levels. With current funding levels Tusla is in "survival" mode, according to the document and calls for investment to put the agency on a sustainable footing.

Half of all cost savings by Tusla to date have been made by slashing community and voluntary funding and the Agency warns further cuts would have to be made unless the its funding is increased.
In recent years Tusla has cut funding to services run by the Barnardos, marriage counselling, rape crisis and domestic violence support services.
Tusla, which was established at the beginning of 2014, moved child and family services out of the Health Service Executive. However, the document calls for greater access to services which have remained within the HSE.
"Service pressure is exacerbated by ill-defined dependency on HSE Facilities and corporate support which understandably prioritises health service reform", the paper claims, highlighting the areas of ICT and Recruitment in particular.
"The case for investment for children services is not merely a morally compelling one but one that represents sound investment", the paper concludes.

Tusla's Chief Executive, Gordon Jeyes said there are around 5,000 children at risk.
Speaking on RTÉ's This Week programme, Mr Jeyes said the agency is not intervening in children's lives as early as they should, due to a lack of resources.
He said "We are managing that risk. Teams are monitoring it, they're looking at it, they're seeing if it changes but nevertheless there's a significant risk, because we are not intervening as early as we could."
Mr Jeyes said to meet demand, the agency would need around €132m over a three year period.

Minister for Children James Reilly has said is well aware of the concerns expressed by Tusla. 

In regard to the issue of unallocated cases, Minister Reilly said he sought an audit from Tusla to establish the most accurate numbers on the issue.

The Minister further sought a business case from Tusla regarding necessary investment.


Over 43,000 referrals made to child protection and welfare services in 2014

Posted by annetteburrowes on September 25, 2015

 

A record number of children were referred to Tusla’s child protection and welfare services last year, even as the Child and Family Agency struggled with a €5.1m budget deficit.

The Tusla Annual Report for 2014 states that, based on provisional data, 43,179 referrals were made because of child welfare and child abuse issues — twice the number of referrals made less than a decade ago and an increase of 1,580 on 2013.

While the number of abuse referrals fell last year by almost 1,000 to 18,541, the number of child welfare referrals soared by 2,446 to 24,638.

The report also found that 8,351 children had not been allocated a social worker at the end of 2014, of which one third were deemed high priority, while 1,400 children were listed as being at “ongoing risk of significant harm” on the Child Protection Notification System (CPNS).

Children also continue to be placed with unapproved foster carers.
Some 442 relative foster carers were unapproved. However, the bulk of foster carers, 4,210, were approved.
The annual report shows Tusla ended its first year of operations with a deficit of €5.1m.
However, in the report, Tusla chairwoman Norah Gibbons said: “Despite this being a time of constrained resources much has been achieved in the agency’s first year.”

The report lists a range of targets met in 2014, but also highlights the scale of the workload faced by its staff, including 6,463 children in care at the end of last year, two thirds of whom were in foster care with another 29% in relative foster care; 1,400 children listed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm on the CPNS as of the end of last year; 1,282 children or families supported in addressing serious or chronic school attendance issues; and more than 20,000 children in receipt of family support services at the end of 2014.

The report does highlight some positive developments, such as a fall in staff absenteeism.

The number of young people aged between 18 and 22 who received an aftercare service last year increased by 15%; there was a decrease of 24% (to 200) of children who were placed with the Emergency Out of Hours Place of Safety Service; and a fall of 45% in the number of children (174) placed with the Crisis Intervention Service, which also received 752 referrals last year.

While 27,651 cases were open to social work services at the end of 2014, some 70% had been allocated a social worker and of the 5,620 that were not, two thirds were deemed to be low/ medium priority.

June Tinsley, head of advocacy at Barnardos, said the report highlighted how under-resourced Tusla has been. “It’s been chronically underfunded from the get-go,” she said.

“The reality is those referrals could increase when the Children First Bill is enacted.”


White foster carers need more information about caring for black children

Posted by annetteburrowes on September 24, 2015

Black children in care must be empowered to become confident adults, and identity and culture are an important part of this

white foster carers black children
Proper advice can help white foster carers take better care of their black children. Photograph: Bubbles Photolibrary/AlamyDenise Lewis, positiveimageproject
Wednesday 19 November 2014 Last modified on Thursday 20 November 2014

“So, is it okay if I use cooking oil on her hair and skin?” whispered an embarrassed middle aged white foster carer. I was the child’s then social worker, and had mentioned the importance of using oil to moisturise her mixed heritage foster child’s hair and skin. I was stunned. This was my call into action. How many other white foster carers, who were committed to providing the best care to black children, had similar questions, the same angst, and the same embarrassment. What other questions did she not have the answers to? And how were the children, already traumatised by bad circumstance and removal from the familiar, feeling?

 

With my social enterprise positiveimageproject, we set about making and self-publishing a book, Black Children in Care: Health, Hair and Skin. It has positive images of children, who appear happy and confident. It is divided into two main themes, hair and skin, with health running as a golden theme throughout. In relation to hair the readers are taken on a journey which includes the science of hair, the history of cornrow, hair care, as well as a step-by-step guide of how to cornrow.

black children care
The book offers advice on different aspects of looking after black children. Photograph: positiveimageproject

The advice on skin care promotes a holistic approach, with guidance on appropriate natural skin care products that are effective for black and mixed heritage skin. Sickle cell anaemia as a health issue, which disproportionately affects people of African and Caribbean heritage, is also addressed in the book. It is a very serious illness, and without the correct care and attention can be fatal. The book also contains pages on traditional African/Caribbean recipes, such as jollof rice, jerk chicken, and rice and peas.
Many people probably assume that in the 21st century we would not be dealing with these issues in the care sector. Unfortunately we are. Black children need to be empowered to enable them to become confident, capable, well-rounded adults – especially when living away from home in a cross-cultural placement. Identity, culture and heritage help to form this sense of empowerment. All of it needs to be acknowledged and actioned.
Over the years I practiced as a social worker, I noticed that some white foster carers, who have cross-cultural placements, lack the information and support they need to help their black child flourish while embracing their identity. White foster carers need to be empowered too.
With perseverance, determination and a chance meeting at the Cutty Sark, we were lucky enough to get Lemn Sissay to write the prologue for our book. Lemn Sissay was himself a young black child fostered into a white family from birth, where he remained until he was 12 years old, when his white foster carers decided they did not want him anymore. He understood the need for this book.
We gave the book to a focus group of black care-experienced children and young people to preview. All of the comments and feedback were positive and inspiring. As one person commented:
“Having come from a transracial placement myself this book would have been great for me some years ago in my teenage years, as my foster family was mainly white so there are some things they would not know or be familiar with”.
At a conference a young black women saw the book and burst into tears. She explained that she grew up in a children’s home, and hated her skin and hair as a child. She stated that the book would have been of great benefit to her, and given her a strong sense of self.
Black Children in Care is written by Denise Lewis and Flora Awolaja

Social workers in Ireland are swamped by child protection policy

Posted by annetteburrowes on August 28, 2015

New research shows Ireland’s social workers feel overloaded by policies and are scared of using too much individual discretion. Change must come from the top

child being bullied by classmatesThe Children First national guidance places responsibility for keeping children safe with everyone, from social workers to schools (picture posed by models). Photograph: Peter Titmuss/Alamy

These recommendations have led to new legislation, national child protection guidelines, ancillary policies and the further development of services. But there are questions over whether the recommendations are being effectively implemented and if they are preventing abuse – an issue that the UK is wrestling with as well.

Tusla is the Irish state agency responsible for improving wellbeing and outcomes for children. Its establishment in 2014 involved a comprehensive reform of child protection, early intervention and family support services. The agency has in excess of 60 policies, which devolve from the over-arching 2011 Children First national guidance for the protection of children policy framework. This guidance places responsibility for keeping children safe with everyone, including professionals such as social workers, GPs and the police, but also schools, community organisations and the general public.

Policy implementation is important as it bridges the gap between the intentions of policymakers and its delivery via frontline services. Implementation is about the operationalising of the policy – the how, rather than the what. I decided that it was important to understand how these 60 policies impact on the actual practices of social workers; specifically, what helps and hinders child protection social workers in the use of policy in their everyday decision-making.

My research findings show that the process of applying policy to practice is highly complex. There are many challenges that need to be overcome while applying child protection policy within real-world practice settings. This is because child protection social workers make practice decisions on a daily basis, within complicated legal and policy contexts.

 There appears to be a tension between practitioners following policy guidelines and their need to exercise professional judgement when dealing with specific cases. This is in part because clients and external professionals also have an impact on the ability of social workers to implement policies. Nonetheless, social workers value the Children First framework as they feel it reflects their own values by making children the central focus, while also advocating shared responsibility for their protection.

There is a fear among social workers of using too much individual discretion, making the wrong professional judgement and being held accountable for not being familiar with every possible related policy. This highlights a policy overload felt on the part of child protection social workers. This is hardly surprising given the sheer number of policies with which frontline practitioners are expected to be familiar while at the same time coping with a 98% increase in reports of children at risk in the past seven years.

This lack of awareness highlights the gaps in the implementation process and underlines how communication with staff is a critical part of any policy implementation strategy. In this regard, Tusla has made some positive changes, with the adoption of an internal intranet website and the delivery of regular newscasts via email to all staff. But these policy dissemination methods are passive, as they lack the important active ingredient of giving and receiving feedback. Research has clearly shown that passive forms of information dissemination do not result in new approaches being effectively implemented.

Recently qualified social workers like learning from their more experienced peers and how they apply a particular policy to their practice, rather than passively reading a 20-page policy document. The best way to ensure that social workers will apply a policy is for them to hear a respected colleague say that he or she finds it beneficial.

As part of the study I’ve made recommendations of how to bridge the gap between policy and practice. This includes the establishment of local policy-implementation groups involving department managers and frontline social workers. The managers would act as implementation leaders; the social workers as implementation champions. These groups would have responsibility for prioritising and overseeing the process. This would provide leadership and help ensure high levels of compliance with child-protection policies. If Tusla were to develop more effective strategies for utilising the extensive knowledge and experience of frontline staff, they would feel more supported in applying policy to their practice.

Olivia O’Connell will be presenting her research at the International Federation of Social Workers European conference in Edinburgh, 6-9 September. The Guardian Social Care Network is media partner for the event


Social worker shortage delaying 5,000 cases, committee hears

Posted by annetteburrowes on July 20, 2015

 Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 18, 2015, 01:00

 

A shortage of social workers at Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is delaying about 5,000 cases, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children has been told.

Chief executive of Tusla Gordon Jeyes told the committee he estimates that about 280 social workers are needed for the agency to function effectively.

Mr Jeyes said that more than 2,000 high priority cases are still waiting for a social worker.


He said that there is a lack of social workers in the country, with one for every 3,000 members of the population, which he said is three times less than the rate in Scotland.

Mr Jeyes also told the committee that Tusla had “inherited a broken IT system”, as the company has only two information technology staff for more than 4,000 employees.

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout questioned Mr Jeyes over the lack of psychological services in the agency.

He agreed that there “needs to be improved and enhanced services for disturbed young people that emanates very often in behaviour that is very hard to contain”.

The chief executive said the agency has made significant progress on the issues of transparency and accountability, but that “consistency remains more elusive”.

Mr Jeyes said issues in Laois-Offaly were “complex and many”, after it emerged in April that more than 1,000 files had not been processed.

He also said that issues in Louth-Meath were being addressed, following previous comments that the agency has concerns over “organisational structure, relationships and practice” there.

Out-of-hours service

The chief executive said an out-of-hours service will go live in the autumn, including a 24/7 phone line.

A text notification system accessible to An Garda Síochána and the emergency services will also be launched in the next few months.

He said the “pace of reform is inhibited” by a lack of funding, which he said is “necessary to move from establishment to sustainability”.

He said the agency, which was set up in January 2014, will need funding of €25 million “merely to keep pace”.

“We accepted the discipline of austerity, but investment is now required,” the chief executive said.

 

Grainia Long, ISPCC Childline CEO.

IN 2012, when the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group was published, there was rightly a cross-party consensus on the need for a swift response. Statements from TDs from all parties demonstrated that our representatives took the issue seriously, and all agreed that urgency was going to be key. An implementation plan was to be produced and progress reported regularly to government and to a cabinet sub-committee.

Three years on, the patience of professionals who work with children has been sorely tested.  As the Dail has now wound up for a summer recess, it is deeply disappointing that the majority of the recommendations in the ICDRG report have not been implemented, and that there has been so little discussion of the issue in our national parliament.

Worse still, the Children First legislation – which provides a legal framework for change, is not yet enacted. In fact, it has yet to reach the Seanad.  The legislation is not controversial or contested – it merely places on the statute books a framework for institutional and practical measures that are long overdue and that are a matter of course in many other jurisdictions.  In itself, the legislation will not improve child protection – it’s the cultural, practice and service change that will make a difference.  And by delaying enactment and implementation, children will suffer.

The Taoiseach is wrong – TULSA is not well-funded

So, why the delay, and what impact for children?

Changes in our child protection regime will take time and will take resources.  I disagree fundamentally with the Taoiseach when he said during Leaders Questions this week that TUSLA – the child and family agency – is well-funded.  Anyone working with children today – including my Childline colleagues – will attest to an acute lack of resources for social work services, mental health services and family support and early intervention services for children.

The lack of a countrywide funded 24-hour social work service is a national scandal – it is hard to believe that a child presenting with urgent child protection needs on a Friday afternoon will – in the vast majority of cases – have to wait three nights to have their case passed to a social worker.  ISPCC Childhood Support staff have reported children as young as nine misusing drugs in some areas; these are children in acute need.  My colleagues report that in some parts of the country a child in need has to wait 18 months to see a psychologist.  That is not a picture of a well-resourced child protection and child welfare regime.

To its credit, and despite the resource constraints, TUSLA has begun preparations for the Children First law, but professionals working with children including my colleagues at the ISPCC are more than a little frustrated that the lack of momentum in the Dail means practice change is further delayed.  If lack of resources are the reason for delay, that is simply not good enough.  The lack of progress in implementing this important legislation puts the protection of our children at risk.

A shameful mark of disrespect to the many children who suffered abuse and neglect

However, if the legislation is delayed because of a lack of urgency on the part of our parliamentarians, then that would be a shameful mark of disrespect to the many children who suffered abuse and neglect in Ireland for decades; and an insult to children today who have the right to be safe.  It is our job as adults to ensure they are.

The mood among child protection professionals is one of deep frustration that the initial and very welcome focus of our public representatives on the protection of children is not being borne out in practice.  The ICDRG found evidence of many failings within our system and we promised we would never allow it to happen again.  Yet as the holiday season arrives for many, an under-resourced system and lack of an urgent response means we cannot guarantee the past will not repeat itself.

Grainia Long, ISPCC Childline CEO.

First published 'the Journal.ie'


Expansion of IFCA Support Helpline

Posted by annetteburrowes on June 30, 2015

IFCA has provided a support and information service for many years. Since December 2013, our Support Helpline has operated from 10am to 3pm, Mon, Tues, Wed. & Friday. Since mid-April, we piloted opening on Thursdays also. The expansion of the service was dependent on the availability of our volunteers – and we wished to ensure that opening for an extra day was necessary and that it didn’t compromise our capacity to provide cover over the rest of the week. To date, by being open on Thursdays we have been able to facilitate opening 40 new cases and also have been able to make more scheduled call-backs to individuals or pursue follow-up research on existing cases.  Due to the recent recruitment of new volunteers, we are now in the position to extend the Helpline service from Monday straight through to Friday. This is a significant achievement for us and represents our commitment to providing advice, information and support to an ever growing number of callers.

We would specifically like to thank our Helpline Volunteers for their consistent commitment and dedication. It is with their time and efforts that achievements of this kind are possible. We would also like to acknowledge all those who have accessed the Helpline so far. Thank you for sharing your issues and difficulties with us and we continue to look forward to being able to support and guide all those involved in Foster Care in the future.

Peter O’Toole

IFCA Support Service Development Worker.


Children First Bill 2014

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Minister Fitzgerald publishes Children First Bill 2014

  •  New law to strengthen child protection in Ireland
  • Acting on the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan
  • Delivery of key Programme for Government commitment

View Bill Here 

Monday 14th April 2014

Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has announced that legislation agreed at cabinet to put the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011] on a statutory footing will today be published by the Houses of the Oireachtas.  

The introduction of this legislation has been a key Programme for Government commitment as well as being a recommendation of the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan. This is the first time that key elements of Children First Guidelines will be put on a statutory footing since they were first published in 1999.

The Children First Bill 2014 will form part of a suite of child protection legislation which already includes the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, 2012.

Minister Fitzgerald stated: “This proposed new law represents an important and necessary addition to the child welfare and protection landscape in Ireland, seeking, as it does, to ensure that child protection concerns are brought to the attention of the Child and Family Agency without delay.”

“This legislation is about making best safeguarding practice the cultural norm for anyone working with children”.

The Bill provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:

·    A requirement on mandated persons to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) including among others: medical practitioners; registered nurses; teachers; social workers; gardai; psychologists; members of the clergy; pre-school child care staff ; child protection officers of religious, sporting; cultural, recreational and educational organisations offering services to children;

·    A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Child and Family Agency in the assessment of a child protection risk, if requested to do so by the Agency;

·    A requirement on organisations providing services to children to comply with best practice in child protection as set out in the Children First Guidelines and to produce an organisational-specific Child Safeguarding Statement;

·    Statutory arrangements to promote cross-sectoral implementation and compliance with Children First.

The Minister noted that the provisions of the Bill would also improve the quality of reports made to the Agency.

The Minister emphasised the mandatory requirements to be placed on individual professionals and those persons in key positions of responsibility. The Minister said: “A central feature of the Bill is putting a statutory obligation on certain individuals.  We are placing a statutory obligation on them to report harm or risk of harm to a child.  Furthermore, we are removing any real or perceived obstacles to certain professionals and post holders by placing a specific obligation on mandated persons to assist the Agency in their assessment of risk to a child.”

The Minister said: “We know that it is the combined efforts of professionals and post holders that keep children safe. Sharing information and collaborating in the assessment process is as critical as simply reporting, as the past tells us.”

Responsibilities on organisations providing services to children and their families are focused on ensuring that organisations reflect and consider the potential for risk in their organisations and demonstrate awareness and good practice in a publicly available Child Safeguarding Statement.

The Minister said: "While Government will continue to use all of its levers to demand compliance, parents will also demand the best for their children. I will work with the Child & Family Agency to ensure parents are informed and empowered to demand and drive compliance."

The Minister referred to past concerns about implementation of Children First: National Guidance by stating: “A significant provision in the legislation is the statutory basis given to the Children First Interdepartmental Group. This Group, which will include a representative of all Government Departments, will be required to keep under review, the implementation of this legislation and the Children First Guidance, and to report on an annual basis to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This will ensure a continued focus on the implementation and compliance task until best practice becomes the absolute norm.”


Minister Fitzgerald confirmed that the new legislation will operate in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011] which will continue to operate administratively for all sectors of society.

“Our focus on who is mandated in the Bill is in accordance with international practice. I believe it strikes the correct balance in achieving high quality reporting, with high substantiation rates while avoiding overwhelming the child protection system with inappropriate reports which is a key criticism of the operation of mandatory reporting in other countries,” she said.

“However, we all have a responsibility for keeping children safe and the Children First: National Guidance will continue to operate to support anyone to understand what harm looks like and how to deal with any concern they may have.  I and my officials have had significant consultation and briefings with key stakeholders -  including through the hearings on the Heads of Bill conducted by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. The legislation now being published is the outcome of considerable deliberations and discussions about the most effective way to encourage high quality and relevant reports to the Agency on child protection concerns”.


Ombudsman for Children asked to investigate State care case

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Judge says it is ‘unacceptable’ children had been left without an allocated social worker for three months

Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children: Judge Alan Mitchell has instructed the guardian of the children in question to refer the case to Ms Logan and Hiqa. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children: Judge Alan Mitchell has instructed the guardian of the children in question to refer the case to Ms Logan and Hiqa. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

The Ombudsman for Children and Hiqa are to be asked to investigate why the Child and Family Agency left children in State care without an allocated social worker for over three months this year.

This follows District Court Judge Alan Mitchell instructing the children’s guardian adlitem to refer the case to Ombudsman Emily Logan and Hiqa.

At a family law court sitting in Ennis, Judge Mitchell said it is “a matter of serious concern and unacceptable” that the children have been left without an allocated social worker from February of this year until now.

The judge said he has requested the guardian ad litem – who provides an independent voice for children in family law proceedings – to refer the case to the two agencies as there was insufficient reason for the non-allocation by the agency “and the court finds this practice was not in the best interests of the children and may have adversely affected the children”.

A senior social worker with the agency told the court she shared Judge Mitchell’s concerns in relation to the children and similar cases where children have been left without an allocated social worker describing the situation as “scandalous”.

Judge Mitchell adjourned the case for six months to review it at that time.


More than 1,000 kids are put in care due to neglect

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Eilish O'Regan

Published 25/06/2014|02:30

1,000 children are put in care due to neglect. Picture posed.
1,000 children are put in care due to neglect. Picture posed.

NEGLECT and welfare concerns rather than sexual or physical abuse remain the main reasons why children are being placed in State care, a new report has revealed.

The figures show a total of 4,288  children were put in care in 2011 and 2012  and of these 2,561  were removed from their families by the Health Service Executive (HSE) because of worries about their welfare with another 1,076 suffering neglect.

Another 342 children were in care because of physical abuse, 241 for physical abuse and 68 for sexual abuse over the two years, the report published by Tusla, the child and family agency, revealed.

 

Welfare concerns relate to a problem experienced directly by a child or by their family, that is seen to impact on the young person's health and development.

The review of the adequacy of child and family services for 2012 said that since 2006, the HSE experienced a 91pc rise in reported concerns about children – from 21,040 to 40,187.

At the same time, the numbers of children placed in state care went up 20.7pc from 5,247 to 6,332 while funding fell.

More than 90pc of the children are in foster care, one-third of whom are relatives. Another 5.3pc are in residential facilities or high-support centres.

Weakness

The report revealed continued weaknesses in follow-up support for children who leave care at the age of 18 years – a time when they are particularly vulnerable.

Although the numbers of young men and women who were getting aftercare services went up to 1,457 from 847 in 2009, just 61pc were in education or training.

In 2012 the aftercare support programme delivered to young people aged between 17 and 19 provided support of just eight hours a week for six months to support the transition from care to independent living.

Of the 60 children who were in care or known to HSE social services in 2011, seven were in aftercare situations, supported by HSE services.

Three of these young people died from suicide, three were found dead following drug overdoses and one died in an accident.

The report pointed out that once a report of a suspected abuse was made to social services, a preliminary inquiry should take place in no more than 24 hours.

This was only achieved in just over four out of 10 cases in the HSE south and the best performing was the HSE west which managed this deadline in 87.9pc of reports.

Irish Independent

- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/more-than-1000-kids-are-put-in-care-due-to-neglect-30382243.html#sthash.ZKLLQRuP.dpuf


Long waits at family courts lead to high emotions

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

‘It’s not a game,’ judge tells Nenagh couple in dispute over daughter

Men and women spend the day dwelling on the perceived wrongs done to them and by the time they make it to the courtroom they are often tired, usually emotional and sometimes fit to burst.

Men and women spend the day dwelling on the perceived wrongs done to them and by the time they make it to the courtroom they are often tired, usually emotional and sometimes fit to burst.

People filled the seating areas, foyer and outside space at Bray District Court on Wednesday this week, all waiting for their cases.

The difference from other areas of law, is that those involved in family and childcare must wait outside court until their names are called.

In Dublin, Dolphin House deals with family law every day, but elsewhere in the country, District Courts have designated family law days each month.

In all, 75 cases were to be heard on Wednesday in Bray; in Drogheda on Tuesday there were 45 and although the list was shorter in Nenagh on Thursday, the registrar there was predicting a long day at the court’s final family session of the term later on this month.

In each court, all of the cases were listed for first thing in the morning and all of those involved arrived at the same time. They packed the courtrooms for call over, when the case names were read out one by one to check that the parties were present, and then they filtered out into the corridors and seated areas to wait for their turn.

Every case heard was an important one; important for the men and women involved and very important for the children often at their centre. Decisions were made that will seriously affect their young lives.

 

Bickering and shouting

On Thursday, at Nenagh District Family Court, Judge Elizabeth McGrath sought a second opinion in the case of a six-year-old in foster care: a psychiatrist had recommended behavioural control drugs for probable Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

 

The Child and Family Agency social worker said the child couldn’t be brought anywhere and that the doctor was very careful about prescribing medication.

The judge said she was concerned about her age. She said she wanted to be satisfied that all other options were considered. “Medication is a nuclear option,” she said.

In another case, the same judge reprimanded the parents of another young child.

The case involved maintenance arrears on a payment of €130 a week. The father had unilaterally decided to reduce it and the mother had responded by reducing his access to his daughter.

The mother also wanted the court to dispense with the need for the father to sign a passport application.

Texts were read out in court: “€80 a week Monday and Friday,” one read. These were the father’s new terms.

The mother responded with “you’re a disgusting pig” and warned him that the courts were closing shortly until September and she could be gone.

The judge refused to dispense with the need for the father to sign for a passport pending a full hearing of the case. She ordered him to pay the arrears he owed and pointed out that his daughter was “not an object”.

She told the couple they were dealing with a young child who didn’t deserve to be caught up in their difficulties.

“Please just sit back and think of this in terms of her; it’s not a game,” she said.

By mid-afternoon in Drogheda, when a couple, both unrepresented, began bickering and then shouting over each other in a row over €40, Judge Flann Brennan put his head in his hands in exasperation. He probably had another dozen cases to be dealt with.

One solicitor confided that the court sometimes sits until after 10pm to clear the list.

In general, judges deal with the short cases first; minor matters such as solicitors’ applications for short service, adjournments or those with consent.

Couples involved in longer cases spend more time waiting. This can sometimes lead to settlements reached outside the courts and when the cases are finally called they require only the judge’s seal of approval. But when no settlement is reached, particularly when parties are unrepresented, it can lead to a build up of frustration.

Men and women spend the day dwelling on the perceived wrongs done to them and by the time they make it to the courtroom they are often tired, usually emotional and sometimes fit to burst.

And the judge hearing the case must be referee and arbiter and must deal with the parties patiently and in the same measured way that he or she dealt with the cases heard early in the morning when everyone was fresh.

 

Emotional pressure

Mediation is encouraged by many organisations involved in family law and it works for many couples. But there will always be those for whom only a decision made by a judge will be enough to settle their dispute.

 

Would it not be possible to make the whole experience a little more civilised for them by setting aside more time for family law and by staggering cases throughout the day? This way men and women already under emotional pressure would not be required to wait for hours, brooding on their circumstances.


Controversial reforms to youth support to be postponed

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Campaigners feared changes would pull crucial foster support from young people at risk

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of  the Child and Family Agency Tusla: “The broad aim of the proposals will be to ensure young people who leave care will be entitled to the same amount of funding whether they choose to undertake further education or not.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of the Child and Family Agency Tusla: “The broad aim of the proposals will be to ensure young people who leave care will be entitled to the same amount of funding whether they choose to undertake further education or not.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Child and Family Agency has confirmed that controversial plans to reform aftercare services for hundreds of young people are being reviewed and will not be rolled out next month.

Aftercare is the term given to support for young people in State care after they turn 18. Between 1,000 and 1,500 people between the ages of 18 and 23 receive aftercare services.

Under the plans – which were due to come into force on September 1st – a national €300 aftercare payment was to be divided between young people involved in education or training and their carers.

Controversially, however, the payment would cease where young people were not involved in education or training. Instead, they would be guided towards drawing social welfare and seeking housing from either local authorities or in the private rented market.

Groups representing young people in care expressed alarm that these changes would withdraw crucial foster support from young people who needed it most and increase their chances of ending up homeless or at risk.

In an interview, Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of the Child and Family Agency Tusla, acknowledged that some of the proposals may have been “too prescriptive” and will not come into force this year. Any changes would involve full consultation with foster families.

“We’re fully committed to reform of aftercare and want to make sure it’s done right. There are still details to be worked out about we empower young people . . . we’re not going to ‘look after’ those who are over 18, but we have to be better at creating a support system, a nest for them to fall back to, where necessary.”

At present, the level of aftercare support varies dramatically in different parts of the State. In some parts, foster families receive up to €350 a week to care for young people in aftercare, although elsewhere financial support can stop altogether at 18 years.

Similarly, education grants for young people leaving care who are progressing on to further education can vary between €1,200 and €3,000.

Children from residential homes, often the most vulnerable, cannot access the higher grant rates. Mr Jeyes said new proposals aimed to standardise these forms of support.

“The broad aim of the proposals will be to ensure young people who leave care will be entitled to the same amount of funding whether they choose to undertake further education or not,” Mr Jeyes said.

He insisted the changes would not amount to a cost-saving measure, even though the agency is running over budget and is likely to require a significant additional State funding to balance its books by the end of the year. Aftercare services currently cost €16.5 million. “This is categorically not a cost-saving measure . . . No matter how far down the line this goes, if the figures show this is a saving, then we’ll walk away from it.”

The proposal that young people not involved in education or training would cease to benefit from foster family support was also under discussion, Mr Jeyes added.

“I don’t want to scare off foster parents, but we have to respect that when a young person becomes an adult, the relationship changes. Choice must come into it in some way. I recognise that and this is why this process will take longer than expected.” he said. “Young people should be able to have that choice [to stay with a foster family or leave]. The young person could choose to use their allowance to stay with mum and dad . . . the letter [containing draft proposals] was too prescriptive.”

The Irish Foster Care Association has welcomed confirmation that the plans are being reviewed and will involve more consultation with foster parents. A spokeswoman says it broadly supports the main aim of standardising payments but is concerned about young people who left care without access to education.


More than 6,500 children in care of State, up 23% on 2007

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Tusla reports increase in number of babies from north Dublin city going into care

There is a serious shortage of foster carers in Dublin, particularly in north Dublin city, according to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Photograph: Alan Betson

There is a serious shortage of foster carers in Dublin, particularly in north Dublin city, according to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

More than 6,500 children are in the care of the State, a 23 per cent increase on 2007, new figures from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, show.

While more than 90 per cent are in foster placements, there is a serious shortage of foster carers in Dublin, particularly in north Dublin city, Tusla says.

The shortage means the agency has had to relocate some children away from their own communities.

In 2007, 5,307 children were in the care of the State.

At the end of May this year the figure was 6,517. Of these, 6,054 – 93 per cent – were in foster care placements, living with individual fosterers, couples or families. The remaining children, just over 460, were in residential, specialist or secure care units and, in some cases, in specialist units in the UK.

Almost 640 children from north Dublin city, incorporating the north inner city and the postal districts Dublin 3, 7, 9 and 11, were in foster-care placements at the end of May. The area has one of the highest proportions of children in care in the country. There are currently 390 foster carers in the north Dublin city area and, as a result of the shortfall, some children have had to be placed away from their locality.

Since the beginning of the year there has also been a marked increase in the number of new babies from the area going into care directly from maternity hospitals, having been born addicted to drugs.

Tusla fostering team leaders in the north Dublin city area Bríd Griffin and Lisa Smyth say there is a huge demand for foster carers for children of all ages and needs.

Minimise disruption

Ms Griffin says Tusla is keen to keep children within their community of origin if at all possible.

“It’s difficult enough for children to have to move into care in the first place, so we would like to keep them in their schools with their friends,” she said.

Ms Smyth says when a child is taken into care the aim is to minimise disruption and change, so it is very difficult if a child has to move out of the county.

“It means a new environment, new family, new culture, new pace of life – it’s change everywhere, which is really hard,” she says. And moving from a local community can be particularly hard for teenagers.

Finding foster carers is always a challenge, Ms Griffin says, but the need is particularly great in the Dublin north city area, which has one of the “highest proportions of children in care”, in part due to “quite high rates of social disadvantage”.

She said Tusla is seeking to recruit new foster carers and hopes to attract people from all backgrounds.

“Professionals can only do so much; what we need is foster families. That is where the healing can really start happening for children,” she says.

Single people can apply to foster as well as married couples and people in civil partnerships. The process may be started through applying online at fostering.ie or by calling a local centre.

Those who foster find the experience very rewarding.

Paula, who does not want to be named, to protect the children in the care of herself and her husband, says potential foster carers sometimes think they are “not good enough” to foster.

“But if any person thinks children have a right to a nice warm bed and a safe home, then they are right for fostering,” she says.

20 years fostering

When she and her husband began fostering more than 20 years ago it was to help a relative. Since then she has had three long-term children and other children on shorter placements.

“I would fully recommend it. There is nothing better than seeing a child that comes in and is hanging on to something and being quiet and then in a while you look out and they are playing or laughing and enjoying themselves,” she says. “You say to yourself: ‘I gave them the space to be who they need to be.’”

Paula readily admits that when she and her husband began fostering they were naive about the needs of foster children.

“But you get over constantly trying to make up for what went before and you come back to basics,” she says.

She is also conscious that some would-be carers are put off by the vetting process.

“It doesn’t have to be ‘I can give them the best of everything’, it’s about their emotional needs,” she says. “The social workers need to know where you are coming from, what your view is on rearing; there is nothing to be afraid of.”

A local recruitment campaign for foster carers in Dublin city north will be launched later this year.


Abuse case ruling ‘raised the bar’ for child protection

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

 

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to child sex abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe "raised the bar" for all child protection obligations placed on schools, a conference on cyberbullying heard yesterday.

Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on child protection, said it was not sufficient for a school to have an anti-bullying policy: That policy must be fully implemented.

In Ms O’Keeffe’s case, the European court had stated very clearly that the State had an obligation to protect children from degrading treatment and punishment and to take a proactive approach in this area.

Mr Shannon warned liability would be saddled on a school for failing to implement policies and strategies to eliminate bullying and cyberbullying, in particular.

He also believed there was a need for a review of existing legislation to ensure a comprehensive response to the growing scourge of cyberbullying.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK, Middle East and Africa, said the social network with a community of 1.3bn had an “absolutely zero tolerance” for hate speech, nudity, incitement to real world violence, bullying, and harassment.

But, he admitted, there was a difficulty in identifying harm and offence. He said most instances on Facebook relating to bullying started with a photo. It was the most often reported category from young people.

“Now what we do is allow people to resolve the issue between themselves,” he said.

Principal of Coláiste Daibhead in Carrigaline, Co Cork, Tadhg Ó Laighin, said principals should be able to directly access Facebook if they have a student in distress. He said it made more sense for principals to use the hotlines that had expertise across a range of services.

Clive Byrne of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPDP) who also addressed the conference, said banning the use of smartphones at school would only drive the cyberbullying issue underground.

“What we need to do is teach children how to use technology responsibly so they can benefit from the wonders that the technological revolution can bring to schools,” he said.

However, he felt that the social network Ask.fm was not doing enough to deal with complaints about cyberbullies.

Mr Byrne said principals found the network to be the most difficult to access when trying to get offensive posts taken down.

Ask.fm had been asked to address the conference but declined because of other business commitments.

While Facebook had made school management bodies and the NAPDP aware of the hotline numbers, Mr Byrne felt that the response times were far too long.

The cyberbullying conference was organised by Bully 4U and the Anti Bullying Centre at Dublin City University.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved


A creative arts therapy service in Limerick can’t keep up with the demand for its help from schools, social workers and even the courts

Volunteers from Our Lady of Lourdes National School, Patrick Nolan (8) on guiro, Ciaran Bannon (8) on djembe, Zoe Malone (8) on drums and Lee Nolan (8) on guitar, attend the Blue Box creative therapies. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Volunteers from Our Lady of Lourdes National School, Patrick Nolan (8) on guiro, Ciaran Bannon (8) on djembe, Zoe Malone (8) on drums and Lee Nolan (8) on guitar, attend the Blue Box creative therapies. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

First published:Tue, Sep 16, 2014, 01:00

TV news was reporting on a major hurricane in the US the Friday afternoon Aisling blew into Clare’s life as an emergency foster care placement. She remembers turning to her husband later that night and saying, “What about the hurricane that turned up on our doorstep today?”

That is exactly what she was like, Clare recalls. Constantly on the move, she had no routines, no sense of boundaries and no fear.

“Even though she was four, it was like having a baby handed to you: emotionally, this child was way back.”

From what Clare knows, the little girl had witnessed a lot of domestic violence. “This child to me was like somebody who was constantly on red alert. Always waiting for something to happen.”

She couldn’t communicate her feelings. “It was anger and aggression, and that was all she knew.”

The average kid her age would have outbursts of tears. “This child would grind her teeth and clench her fists and would hit and punch you. She was a small little thing but there were occasions she could give Katie Taylor a run for her money.”

Bit by bit, she started to disclose a little of her experiences, particularly when Clare was putting her to bed and reading her a story in their Limerick home.

At times “she would physically hit herself to display to me the extent of what she was trying to tell me,” says Clare. “It was very distressing to see. Such a little person carrying all that.”

As foster parents, they knew the love and support they could give Aisling would certainly help “but, with the level of trauma she was suffering from, we had to reach for outside help.

“We didn’t have the expertise to deal with it. She would have had a lot of night terrors and sleepless nights. The only emotion she seemed to be comfortable in expressing was anger; an awful lot of anger.”

Coming up against a two-year waiting list for the child and family psychological services in Limerick, Clare contacted the Blue Box creative therapy centre, so named from its origins as a youth project in a blue freight container. Then, with a referral from Aisling’s social worker, she was soon accepted for therapy at the centre, now in the Limerick Enterprise Development Project (LEDP) building in Roxboro.

As Aisling had such poor concentration, Clare thought she would probably run out after five minutes, and she also wondered how she would deal with the male therapist. But she stayed for nearly all of that first hour-long session.

“When she came out, all she was talking about was all the different coloured paints,” says Clare. Over the weeks, as Aisling brought bits of artwork home, “the Freud in me was looking at these upside down and sideways”, trying to read meaning into them. “But you can’t; they were for her, on the day, whatever she does.”

What Clare loves about the Blue Box is that when Aisling goes in, “it’s space for her, it’s time for her and she gets total freedom of expression. There is no agenda, and she has absolutely thrived on it.”

 Emotional block

The essence of the work at the Blue Box is using creative arts psychotherapy to remove the emotional block that stops traumatised children from learning, says its chief executive, Bernadette Kenny. The children may have suffered domestic, environmental, emotional or sexual abuse, or maybe bereavement, but a common result will be the biological “fight, flight or freeze” response to the stress.

 “When a child is traumatised, they can’t learn,” she says simply. The brain stops as it goes into a state of hyper alert.

“It’s no good telling them off for not learning, or shouting at them, or giving them extra homework; it just is not going to work.” Creative therapies help to promote emotional stability and self-regulation and to build relationships.

What makes the Blue Box the only service of its kind “not only in Ireland but also in Europe”, says Kenny, is that “we are the only creative arts psychotherapy for children that is non-profit, that goes into schools and are the referring agency for social work”.

Sitting in one of several small pre-fab offices housed within a former Krups factory, Kenny is looking forward to moving within days into a new centre the Blue Box has built with funding from local benefactor JP McManus’s Invitational Pro-Am golf classic in 2010, topped up by its own fundraising. A mound of packed boxes are ready to be transported to the new premises, just on the other side of this LEDP building.

There, a series of vibrantly coloured, spacious therapy rooms – blue for music, red for play and yellow for art – are a world apart from the previous dingy, cramped conditions. Physically it heralds a bright future, but expansion of Blue Box services will depend on an increase in funding.

With a mission to help vulnerable children in the city’s marginalised areas such as Moyross, Southill and King’s Island, the therapy team works mostly in schools, but as referrals from social workers grow, they hope to be able to see more children “in- house” too.

Having worked in disadvantaged communities in the UK and the US for many years before returning to Limerick, Clare-born Kenny says there’s always suspicion of authority in such areas. On top of that, in Ireland little is known about creative arts therapy.

By bringing therapy to schools, they are getting around that barrier and not depending on parents to bring the children to them. Last year Blue Box worked with 140 children in 13 primary schools, 41 in six secondary schools and 15 “inhouse”. It has also started a programme in two preschools, working with child-parent pairings.

While more than half of the children attending the Blue Box centre are in State care, about one in four of the children they see in schools is in care too.

At the end of June, some 295 children in Limerick were in care and 594 in the HSE Mid-West region as a whole, according to figures released to the Limerick Leader.

“There is a lot of neglect in Limerick and it is not talked about,” says Kenny, who reckons many more children would be brought to the attention of social services if schools were to report every child who meets the criteria for “neglect”. These are outlined in the Children First guidelines as “where the child suffers significant harm or impairment of development by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, intellectual stimulation, supervision and safety, attachment to and affection from adults, and/or medical care”.

Schools can be reluctant to give details of family background in written assessments of children they are referring to the Blue Box, but will outline them in face-to-face meetings.

“There is an element of fear,” says Kenny. “It is no secret that there is a criminal element that can get quite angry about what you say about them and their kids.”

However, she stresses, “most parents are just so grateful. They beg for our services; they know their children need help and support.”

 Fine line

The Blue Box walks a fine line between wanting to be transparent about its work – and thereby highlighting the needs out there – but at the same time keeping the community’s trust.

 As children may not have the language to talk about their experiences, creative therapy offers them different art forms, such as music, dance, play and visual art, to express their feelings, within defined, professional boundaries.

It is child psychotherapy using arts as a medium because play and movement are the first language of a child,” says Kenny. When a child comes in initially, there’s an array of materials in the therapy room.

“In the first few sessions they may flit from one thing to another and then they start working in the sand tray, or in music, painting or clay, in a certain way that starts to go deeper into expression of what needs to come out,” says Kenny. “They can make more sense of their world and get support for what is happening in their world from their therapist.”

Funding determines how many children the Blue Box team can see and the numbers have dropped as its income has fallen, although demand for its services is increasing. Last year it operated on a budget of just under €300,000, of which roughly 75 per cent came from State bodies such as the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), the HSE and the Department of Education, and another 25 per cent from fundraising.

Kenny is the only full-time employee, while two therapists work four days a week, another seven or eight do sessional work and then are about four qualified counsellors working as interns, as well as a part-time secretary. In addition to schools and social workers referring children to them, “even the courts are referring to us and what isn’t coming with that is the money”, she remarks.

Call for funding

Wayne Dignam, a local businessman who spent much of his childhood in care and has recently joined the Blue Box board, is urging Tusla to increase funding for such vital support for foster parents who are looking after traumatised children.

 “It is impossible for a child to go to school and try to learn, and to fit in with a family, if they are suffering from trauma,” he says.

“When children need this kind of intervention, it does pay off. They can flourish, develop properly and do better in school. There is a greater likelihood of the foster placement succeeding and the kids becoming functioning adults.”

The Blue Box’s services are in great demand “because we have such successful outcomes”, says Kenny. So how do they measure results?

“Children are referred for a reason: they are disruptive, or they’re quiet; they’re not doing their work; they are depressed; they are acting out or they are very silent; and they may be suicidal.”

After the initial assessment the therapist sets goals. But at stages in the 30-week programme during the academic year, teachers and parents are asked what changes they have noticed in the child, as well as the therapist recording them each week.

Pamela, who has fostered children for many years, has seen significant improvements in the teenage girl currently in her care, since she started attending the Blue Box. The teenager feels abandoned by her parents and is full of anger.

Now she controls that anger better, says Pamela. “She cries and gets upset but she isn’t damaging property. She is calmer.”

Not one for doing anything she doesn’t want to do, her foster daughter “loves coming up here”, says Pamela. Before that, she was sick of being brought to “stupid places”. “She can express how she’s feeling in art and music therapy, without sitting down in a chair and being bored off her head.” Youngsters don’t really want to talk while they are face to face, she adds, “but if they are doing something they like, they will chat away”.

Clare has also seen a significant shift in Aisling’s behaviour. “She started to be that bit calmer in herself. A lot of the aggression was replaced by tears; healthy stuff. She started crying instead of grinding her teeth and punching people.”

She has “come down” from her constant hyper state, something her school has noticed too, and she is interacting better with other children.

“Because she was given the freedom to express herself through the art and there was nobody censoring her, or giving out to her, it gave her time and space to connect with herself. And in there she developed a bit of courage and began to bring it outside.”

Now Aisling is chatting and laughing, doing all the things that everybody else takes for granted with their kids, Clare remarks.

“Every glimpse of it gives you some kind of hope that at least you are on the right path,” on what is going to be a long journey, she adds. “The hurricane is down to a tropical storm.”

For more information, see bluebox.ie or tel: 061-315070. Some names have been changed. swayman@irishtimes.com


Parental disability a factor in care cases

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Report identifies parents with disabilities in 15% of child care applications

The “Second Interim Report” from the Child Care Law Reporting Project monitored child care proceedings over an 11-month period to mid-July. Photograph: Getty Images

The “Second Interim Report” from the Child Care Law Reporting Project monitored child care proceedings over an 11-month period to mid-July. Photograph: Getty Images

One of the most common reasons for the Child and Family Agency moving to take children into care is that their parents have a disability, a major report on child care proceedings published this morning has indicated.

The Second Interim Report from the Child Care Law Reporting Project, which monitored child care proceedings over an 11-month period to mid-July, found parents of children at the centre of applications had a physical, mental or intellectual disability in 15 per cent of the cases.

This was closely followed by drug abuse (13.2 per cent) and alcohol abuse (12.3 per cent), though both could be present.

The project, which is led by Dr Carol Coulter, was established in 2012 to examine and report on childcare proceedings which had been held in private and received little public scrutiny.

Cognitive disabilities

While types of disability were not differentiated, “the reporting team has observed that the overwhelming majority, if not all, of the disabilities suffered by parents are either a cognitive disability or mental illness, occasionally both and very occasionally combined with a physical disability”, the report found.

The report found one in four of the cases covered in the study involved a parent from an ethnic minority, including Travellers.

Almost one in three (30 per cent) of the children subject to care applications had special needs – up from 27.3 per cent in last year’s report. Eight per cent had education support needs, eight had physical disabilities and 23 per cent had psychological special needs.

The report found parents were often poor, surviving on welfare and parenting alone – in 70 per cent of cases, the child was parented by a lone parent, usually the mother.

“If poverty is combined with a cognitive impairment or mental illness on the part of the parents and they have a child with special needs, the situation can quickly unravel and the child will be at risk of neglect or sometimes abuse,” said Dr Coulter.

In 25 per cent of cases, at least one of the parents was a member of an ethnic minority, which compares to a non-Irish population of 14 per cent among under-19 year-olds generally.

This over-representation of non-Irish parents “makes an urgent case for renewed focus on integration policies, ensuring that those coming to our shores understand what is expected of them as parents”, Dr Coulter said.

 
 

Social services unable to guarantee safe foster care

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Hiqa report finds vulnerable children going without visits from professionals

Gordon Jeyes, Chief Executive of Tusla- Child and Family Agency and Suzanne O’Brien who spent time in foster care. Inspectors have found a number of foster care households had not had visits from professionals to check if children’s needs were being addressed. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Gordon Jeyes, Chief Executive of Tusla- Child and Family Agency and Suzanne O’Brien who spent time in foster care. Inspectors have found a number of foster care households had not had visits from professionals to check if children’s needs were being addressed. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Social services were unable to guarantee a safe and effective service was being delivered to children in foster care in parts of the State, an inspection report has found.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found up to a fifth of children in foster care in parts of Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow did not have a social worker.

In addition, inspectors found a number of foster care households had not had any visits from professionals to check if children were safe and their needs were being addressed.

  Gordon Jeyes (left), chief executive of Tusla - the Child and Family Agency with Suzanne O’Brien, who spoke of her experience of foster care, and Aodhan O’Riordain (right), Minister for State for New Communities, in Ballymun. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish TimesOne third of foster children in north Dublin placed outside area

There were not enough foster carers in the area and assessments had not been undertaken in a timely manner.

Hiqa inspectors identified a “significant risk” where a small number of foster carers had children placed with them since 2012, but no assessment had started.

Some allegations of mistreatment against foster carers were not investigated in a timely manner. For example, the garda had not been alerted to concerns in one case.

Overall, out of the 19 standards the services were measured against, Hiqa found that foster care services in the Dublin southwest, Kildare and west Wicklow area met just two of them fully.

Responding to the findings, the Child and Family Agency’s head of operations Mary Hargaden said the report has also found that outcomes for many of the children were positive in the context of limited resources

She said there have been many improvements since the inspection such as an increase in staffing and more regular visits to children, in line with statutory requirements.

Ms Hargaden said outstanding care plans have since been prioritised and outstanding assessments for relative foster carers will be completed.

Of the 429 children in foster care at the time of the inspection, the Hiqa report shows that:

- 26 per cent (111) children did not have an allocated social worker.

- 62 per cent (192) of foster carers had not had a review for more than three years, contrary to regulatory requirements

- 46 relative foster carers were caring for children who had not yet been approved by the foster care committee

The authority inspected services last June and July and has provided an action plan to the Child and Family Agency to ensure the identified failings are addressed.


By Noel Baker

Some young people leaving care are at such a high risk of homelessness that they are returning to the family settings which led to them being placed in care in the first place.

The claim was made by Dublin-based Don Bosco Teenage Care Housing Association, which said it knew of at least four young people who had moved home on leaving care at 18.

The CEO of Don Bosco Care, Brian Hogan, said the situation highlighted the need for more after-care support for care-leavers, who previous studies have found are at an increased risk of becoming homeless. 

Mr Hogan said the current situation had been exacerbated by the phasing out of bed-sit type accommodation in parts of Dublin City and by climbing rents.

“Our outreach workers are saying it is damn nigh impossible to find accommodation for them,” he said of the teenage clients leaving care. 

“We know of four young people who are back living at home, which we would prefer would not happen.”

He said some of the young people affected had an intellectual disability and like many care-leavers, were at risk of loneliness and isolation.

Mr Hogan also said that returning back to fractious family setting was also “precarious”. 

She added: “It takes very, very little for these young people to be out of their homes again. We need to catch them as they are exiting the care system.”

Previous studies, such as those carried out by Dr Paula Mayock of Trinity College Dublin, have highlighted the increased risk for care-leavers have of becoming homeless.

Speaking earlier this year to the Irish Examiner, the Minister for Justice, who was then Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, said she wanted to see an element of positive discrimination applied in the cases of care-leavers, so that it would be easier for them to access accommodation and benefits.

Mr Hogan said this was “laudable” but that while efforts had been made, that system was not in place. 

A spokesperson for EPIC (Empowering People In Care) said the organisation was also aware of recent care leavers struggling to secure accommodation.

Karla Charles said EPIC was aware of a 20-year-old woman who, while in need of some support, had been capable of looking after her two children until she became homeless, prompting her to place the children in care.

EPIC has called for the provision of step-down accommodation for care-leavers.

 Yesterday, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast released details of a study which showed that on one day in 2009, 8% of ‘Looked After’ children were living with their birth parents but still subject to a care order, despite the fact that care orders were issued where children were found to have suffered harm, or are likely to suffer harm, at home.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

 
 

IFCA Helpline Celebrates 1st Birthday

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

IFCA’s Telephone Helpline celebrated its first birthday this week  The service has been considered a substantial success since its inception, with frequent positive feedback from members regarding the support they have received.  As individuals become more aware of the service, the number of contacts is steadily increasing.  September and November have been our busiest months to date with calls more than doubling since the summer months. To date, we have received in excess of 1000 contacts since the service launched – with our helpline team assisting on a very diverse range of issues.  We would like to take the time to express our appreciation to the volunteers themselves for their time and commitment to the provision of assistance to our callers.  In addition, we would like to thank all those who availed of the Helpline for sharing your concerns and issues with us. 

We hope that 2015 will continue to be a successful and productive year for us all.


Niall Muldoon selected as new children’s ombudsman

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

Successor to Emily Logan is clinical psychologist and child protection expert

Clinical psychologist Dr Niall Muldoon is set to become the new Ombudsman for Children, succeeding Emily Logan

Clinical psychologist Dr Niall Muldoon is set to become the new Ombudsman for Children, succeeding Emily Logan

Clinical psychologist Dr Niall Muldoon is set to become the new Ombudsman for Children, succeeding Emily Logan.

Dr Muldoon, who already works in the children’s ombudsman’s office as director of investigations, was nominated by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr James Reilly after an open recruitment process. His appointment is subject to approval by both House of the Oireachtas.

Some 97 applications were received by the Public Appointments Service for the position. Mr Reilly’s department said the applications came from a wide range of candidates, both inside and outside the State. Children were directly involved in the final assessment and interview of shortlisted candidates.

Dr Muldoon was formerly national clinical director of the CARI children’s charity and has worked in the area of child protection for nearly 20 years.

Dr Reilly said he was encouraged by the significant interest in the post, which he described as “an integral part of an enhanced architecture in this State devoted to improving the lives of our children and young people”.

Dr Muldoon will be the second children’s ombudsman since the office was established in 2004. He follows Ms Logan, who was re-appointed in 2009 for a second six-year term and left last October to take up the role of chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.


traveller_2.jpg

(Courtesy of the Irish Traveller Movement)

FOSTERINGTEAM

SHARED REARING  WEST

TRAVELLER FOSTER CARERS FOR TRAVELLER CHILDREN

ARE YOU INTERESTED?

We are looking for Traveller Families to foster Traveller children in Galway Mayo and Roscommon. We need families who can look after children for short breaks, a number of weeks or months or long term until they are 18.

You will need:

  • To have some space for a child or children.
  • To have the time available for a child.
  • To be in good health physically and mentally.
  • Not to have a police or garda record of violence against a person.
  • To be able to work in partnership with the child and family agency and the child’s birth family.
  • To have a full driving licence and access to a car.

We will give you training and you will go through an assessment.

We provide a fostering allowance to be spent on the child’s needs and you will be supported by the Social Work Department.

If you are interested call:

Laura Shine Galway 0909646200
Marie Morris Mayo  096 21511
Mary Flanagan Roscommon 09066 37534

We believe that it is in the interests of a child coming into care to have a foster family from their own cultural community.

If you agree and believe you can be that person please call us for more information.


No social workers for 3,000 at-risk children

Posted by adriancrilly on June 24, 2015

 

Around 3,000 children known to be in serious danger of neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse have no dedicated social worker, it has emerged. The figure has remained relatively constant since it was first highlighted more than six months ago by children’s rights activist and senator, Jillian van Turnhout.

 At yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Oireachtas committee on health and children, Ms van Turnhout asked if there was not some concern that children’s needs were not being addressed. She said the overall number of social workers employed by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, had increased by just 30 in the past year at a time when the number of referrals rose by 20%. The senator, who raised the matter with the minister for children, James Reilly, said the situation was totally unacceptable.

 Dr Reilly had pointed out that at the end of November, 8,451 children had not been allocated a social worker and 2,844 were classed as “high priority”. He said the agency had assured him that emergency cases were dealt with immediately.

 Emergency cases would be where a child had been abandoned; was in immediate physical danger; or at an immediate risk of abuse. However, high-priority cases are classed as children at immediate risk of harm, such as being abandoned, beaten or sexually abused.

 Ms van Turnhout said the vast majority of such cases (1,774) were waiting more than three months. She said one of the driving factors in establishing the Child and Family Agency was that the needs of children would be met.  She was concerned that the agency was not being given a chance to succeed. “We know that children are at risk and I don’t think we can stand over this.”

 Figures presented by the minister show that at the end of last November there were 28,439 child protection or welfare cases recorded as open and, of these 8,451, or 30%, were not allocated a social worker.

 Where a child has not been allocated a social worker the case is reviewed regularly by the principal social worker to see if there had been any change in the child’s situation that would change the case prioritisation. He said a case load management system that was being rolled out across the country was near completion. “This is a system for ensuring that social worker caseloads are maintained within manageable levels and the allocation of cases is prioritised on a risk-assessed basis.”

 The minister told Sinn Féin TD Sandra McLellan that Tusla was recruiting social workers as vacancies arose and 164 had been recruited and taken up positions since January 2014 and a further 219 were being recruited. “As in any employment situation, turnover of staff does occur and 112 social workers left the agency during 2014,” he pointed out.

 Dr Reilly said a pilot scheme was in place to replace the 92 social workers on maternity leave.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved



There are currently over 6,000 children in the Irish care system but in childhood, as in life, the implication is that younger is better.

 

Annemarie Ni Churreain

LAST MONTH, Baby Maria was discovered on a Dublin roadside. Newborn and wrapped in a fleece blanket, someone had placed her beside a gate at a field’s edge. Since then, the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, have received ‘dozens’ of calls from people who want to care for her. If there is ever a ‘right’ time to be abandoned, Baby Maria’s parents seem to have managed this, at least.

In Ireland today, infants in need of homes are like gold dust. If Baby Maria was up for adoption (she isn’t – parental permission is usually required for adoption) she’d have up to 14 hopefuls in the application queue. Similarly, if placed in long-term foster care, her age will be a positive factor in helping to identify a suitable home. There are currently over 6,000 children in the Irish care system but in childhood, as in life, the implication is that younger is better. Younger has the potential to adapt, integrate and grow. Younger means hope.

Younger children can carry hurt, they just can’t articulate it

If Maria was a teenager in need of a home, she’d likely join the hoards of Irish kids who are moved between short-term foster homes until the age of 18 (when many find themselves on the roadside again). Or, she might become one of the 341 children who currently live at a residential facility supervised by a team of overworked and underpaid shift workers. She could end up living at a hostel. She might even be sent abroad. Even with parental permission, she’d face little or no chance of being adopted. Teenage Maria would no longer stand for hope, she’d stand for reality.

Part of the reality is that the abandonment or relinquishment of a child to the care of others can have a long-lasting impact on that child. Nancy Verrier in her popular book ‘The Primal Wound’ explores the evidence that age alone is no buffer against the many issues that these children and their new families may face. Younger children can carry the same type of hurt as older children, the important difference being that young children simply can’t name it. They can’t articulate what they’re feeling. They can’t outwardly ask prospective parents or carers to leave their romantic expectations and idealisation of what it means to ‘have a child’ at the door.  Unlike teenagers, younger children will allow you to pretend, for a while at least, that their pain does not really exist.

Caring for a child is about commitment

I was raised in a household with adoptees and fostered children and I remain interested in caring some day for a child who needs a home. One of the most useful pieces of information ever given to me by an adopted child was this: adoption is when you marry a child. Though her words referred specifically to the process of non-familial adoption, I think of it as the best description I’ve yet heard of what a formal commitment to the care of a child who comes to you from another family entails. It helped me understand that like any other relationship born out of choice, this union with a child includes – among many other things – hard work and an element of risk.

Verrier argues that even young children have an unconscious awareness of this risk. Many older children will have a conscious awareness and should be allowed to work through their feelings of fear and hurt. When a child falls and cuts a knee, we expect them to respond to the physical pain. We may even worry if they don’t. Yet, when the wound is emotional or psychological, we tell each other that the child’s response is unnecessary. It’s “challenging behaviour” or in everyday language “acting out” or “looking for attention”. In our deeply romantic and sanitised view of what is acceptable from a child we reprimand these teenagers for what could otherwise be described as a perfectly logical response to pain.

Even in the most functional homes, being a child is not easy

As prospective parents or carers to children who have in some way been abandoned many of us want our own version of the storybook child. We want the opportunity to facilitate a storybook childhood. But let’s remember, childhood is a difficult time. Even in the most functional and secure of families, being a child is not easy. It is a vaguely confusing and uncertain period. A child has no power or control. A child has no real say in what becomes of them. Children are shuffled around in the world by adults who try, and often fail, to get things right. It’s with a feeling of relief that most of us reached our 18th birthdays. That symbolic key signifies more than release and freedom, it signifies new safety.

Baby Maria is only one child, one who deserves care and unconditional love, but there are hundreds of other kids in the Irish care system too, who are at a great disadvantage – not just because we live in a world where increasingly adults are selecting children for their families according to gender, age and ability – but because they have the language to speak the truth and explore what they’re feeling through actions.

Should these older children be seen as any less desirable simply because they can communicate what is hard for us to hear? Should they be any less wanted because they disrupt our fantasies of what parenthood involves? Just because a child is too young to express hurt, or because he or she will grow into an adult who can keep it buried out of sight, doesn’t make that hurt any less real.

Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a writer and poet from Donegal. In 2014, she was writer in residence at Jack Kerouac House Orlando. Currently, she is a Literature Fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude. This article was originally published by The Thin Airmagazine.Taken from 'the Journal.ie'. More about Annemarie’s writing and poetry work can be found here.


Tulsa head says some social protection offices still operating with ‘pencil and paper’ systems

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla (the Child and Family Agency), said the status of the unassessed files, or “referrals or pieces of information”, was unclear. “Not knowing is a failure and I regret that.”   Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla (the Child and Family Agency), said the status of the unassessed files, or “referrals or pieces of information”, was unclear. “Not knowing is a failure and I regret that.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Thu, May 7, 2015, 21:45

 

 At least 1,200 child protection files may not have been assessed by social workers in the Laois-Offaly area, the Oireachtas Committee for Health and Children has been told. The number has increased from 700 at the end of April, when the problem first came to public attention.

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla (the Child and Family Agency), said the status of the files, or “referrals or pieces of information”, was unclear. “Not knowing is a failure and I regret that,” he said.

The files, some of which date back at least 10 years, were discovered by a recently appointed principal social worker at Tusla’s Portlaoise office, who had begun operating a new central intake system from early April.

Mr Jeyes told the committee that 822 Garda referrals were also unacknowledged. It was unclear whether this was a failure to acknowledge, which “unfortunately has historical precedent”, or whether the files remained unassessed.

He said nine social workers had been brought into Laois-Offaly from other areas, along with two childcare experts, to conduct a review of the files. “A number were urgent and have been moved on,” Mr Jeyes added. The review began on April 29th and is due to be completed by May 8th.

Mr Jeyes also said existing management at Laois-Offaly would be “closely scrutinised”. “People will be held accountable, but it is not appropriate to discuss that here.” He added that it was not simply a matter of resources. Resources were far more effectively managed elsewhere and guidance was followed, which was not happening in Laois-Offaly, he said. He said the Health Information and Quality Authority would either investigate or inspect the service at Laois-Offaly.

He also told the committee that some of Tusla’s 17 areas were still operating with “pencil and paper” systems, including the midlands. When Tusla was separated out from the Health Service Executive, in January 2014, none of the 270 HSE IT staff transferred to Tusla. This was “a major gap”, he said.


Vulnerable children risk harm due to lack of staff, says Hiqa

Posted by adriancrilly on March 25, 2015

Children safer once they have social worker but process in Cork takes too long, report finds

Tusla said all children with the greatest need were effectively identified by the service but  accepted there were areas which required improvement. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Tusla said all children with the greatest need were effectively identified by the service but accepted there were areas which required improvement. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Tue, Mar 24, 2015, 20:32

 

Many vulnerable children at risk of harm in the Cork area did not have access to social workers or vital supports, an investigation into social services has found.

A report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) says inspectors found there was not enough staff to cope with the demand for services.

The findings are based on a full inspection of services in the county conducted by the authority last October.

  • The Child and Family Agency – also known as Tusla – has statutory responsibility to promote the welfare of children and protect those deemed to be at risk of harm.

Hiqa found staff at the child-protection service were skilled and they valued the safety of children.

There was also evidence that children were safer once they were allocated a social worker and received a social work service.

But the service was compromised because of the time it took for a social worker to be allocated to assess the needs of children and families. This meant children could remain at risk while waiting to be assessed.

In the year before the inspection, almost 5,000 referrals were received by the service.

Over 1,000 of these cases had not been allocated a social worker. Of these, more than 230 were deemed to be high-risk cases.

Some offices were in poor condition and deemed not to be a suitable place for children and families to meet their social worker in.

Some offices in the area did not have electronic information systems which meant that data was processed manually, making the system unsafe.

In addition, a comprehensive needs analysis for the service had not been done and it was not possible for managers to deploy what resources they had in the most effective way.

Hiqa expressed concern that the service had not established risks to all children in contact with adults against whom retrospective allegations of abuse had been made.

Due to the seriousness of this issue, along with the number of cases with no social workers for children at risk, the authority requested an immediate action plan.

In response to the report, the Child and Family Agency said all children with the greatest need were effectively identified by the service. But it accepted there were areas which required improvement.

Brian Lee, the agency’s director of quality assurance, said all high-risk cases have since been allocated a social worker.

In addition, a principal social worker has been assigned to address and oversee the management and review of retrospective disclosures .

The recruitment of 193 social workers was underway and the time taken to process them was being addressed. “We remain committed to constantly improving our services to ensure the best outcomes for the children in our care,” Mr Lee said.