ISPCC warns lack of social workers leaving children at risk

The Childline 24-hour telephone service answered nearly 400,000 calls for help last year

ISPCC warns lack of social workers leaving children at risk

Broadcaster Kathryn Thomas launches a Donate for Discounts appeal for ISPCC Childline earlier this month, 19-05-2017. Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews

The Childline 24-hour telephone service answered nearly 400,000 calls for help last year.

The ISPCC published its annual report for 2016 this morning, highlighting the large number of calls, texts and online conversations answered by its listening service.

The service answered more than 1,000 calls for help every day – with 75% of them coming in during 'out-of-hours' times - when the State’s social work services are not available directly to children and many have no-one else to call.

The charity’s interim CEO Caroline O’Sullivan told Newstalk Breakfast this morning that the report provides further evidence of the need for a 24-hour directly accessible social work service for all children and families in Ireland.

“400,000 calls to Childline – the majority of those received outside of office hours,” she said.

“It just shows the level of need that children and families have across this country and it is time to say stop now and actually get into action.”

She said the government needs to hire more social workers to protect vulnerable children – adding that social care services need to be extended, as there is often no help available after 5pm.

She said the difficulties facing the stretched social care system all come back to funding:  

“It costs money to hire social workers,” she said. “I think that is what it comes down to; that is the sad reality.”

“Also it is not just out of hours that have problems. Within office hours there are not enough social workers.

“So they are really trying to keep on track of a large caseload, a very complex caseload – but yet you might get around to half of them every month.”

Child protection system audit

Today’s ISPCC release comes after a “damning” new audit released on Monday found chronic failures across the entire child protection system in Ireland.

The audit, undertaken by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Professor Geoffrey Shannon, examined more than 5,400 cases involving the emergency removal of children from over the past eight years.

Calling for a complete cultural change in the system, the report found serious weaknesses in procedures – with gardaí repeatedly removing and returning children from the same family circumstances.

Communication, co-operation and co-ordination between State agencies was found to be poor and limited.

17 recommendations 

The report made 17 recommendations to improve the situation – and Ms O’Sullivan today called for “absolute firm action” to ensure they are implemented without delay.

“We also need to get the government to put a plan in place and get a task force working on it so that it is time defined and we can have all of these recommendations in place one year from today,” she said.

“We cannot delay this any further, this is too serious and children need us to act immediately.”

The annual report highlighted excellent outcomes for children who made contact with the ISPCC childhood support and mentoring services.

  • The total number of conversations with Childline across all platforms was 405,255
  • 385,673 contacts were by phone (95%)
  • 19,582 were online and by text (5%)
  • 99% of children reported being satisfied with the service that they received
  • The majority of calls were from boys (71%)
  • The majority of online and text contacts were from girls (72%)
  • The majority of calls were at the lower level of need with a small minority requiring significant intervention - this equates to approximately six calls per day from children at high risk and in need of protection and support.

Volunteers and donations

The charity moved to thank all those who have supported its work in the past year – with almost 80% of its total funding raised through donations and corporate partners.

It said over 62,000 hours of volunteer time was donated last year – although the charity has had more difficulty recruiting volunteers in recent years.

The charity said it is continually seeking new volunteers adding that is provides “excellent and comprehensive training.”

You can contact Childline’s listening service by phone on 1800 66 66 66, by text on 50101 and online at childline.ie.