What should you do if you suspect child abuse or neglect?

Following a recent court case of child neglect in Galway, we look at how such cases are reported

Child abuse, neglect, reporting child abuse, Child and Family Agency, Tusla, gardai

File photo, posed by a model, of a silhouette of a person | Image: Anna Gowthorpe / PA Wire/Press Association Images

The recent case of abuse and neglect in the west of Ireland has again raised the issue of how people can report child abuse.

A mother has been jailed for four years on charges of cruelty and neglect to some of her children on Monday.

Child protection services became involved with the family in 2006, but some of the most serious allegations did not come to light until five years later. 

What should you do if you suspect a child may be subject to abuse or neglect?

If you have any concerns about a child you should report it to the Child and Family Agency, Tusla here.

A report can be made in person, by telephone or in writing.

Any member of the public who has a concern about a child can contact the local social work duty service in the area where the child lives for advice about reporting concerns.

If a child is in danger outside office hours, you should contact the gardaí.

Under the Protection of Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, so long as you report what you believe is true and it is done in good faith, you cannot be sued.

Under Irish law, the Child and Family Agency has the authority to assess all reports of child abuse.

Assessments are carried out by Child and Family Agency social workers.

Tusla says: "If a child is in immediate danger such as being left at home alone, being badly beaten, being sexually abused, then there will be an immediate response".

"This may involve the child being taken to a safe place until a full assessment is done. A safe place will often be with the extended family".

"Only in a few cases will a child be placed in temporary foster care or Child and Family Agency residential care," it adds.

Child and Family Agency social workers work closely with the gardaí, who are in charge of criminal investigations.

The Children First - National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children was updated in 2011, and emphasises that the welfare of children is of paramount importance.

Breakdown of figures

In October 2013, there were 5,886 children in care and 91% of these had an allocated social worker, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

In 2011, there was 21,040 child welfare and protection reports received by social workers - this was an increase of more than 50% since 2006.

There were increases in all child protection categories with reports for emotional abuse up by 60% from 2,500 in 2010 to 4,011 in 2011.

In 2011, 48% of the children in care were girls and 52% were boys.

The age profile was 37% aged 0-8 years, 32% between 9-13 years and 31% were aged 14-17 years.

In 2013, over half (54%) of admissions to care were due to child welfare concerns, and 46% were due to child abuse.

In 2012, there were rises in all categories of abuse as the primary reason for admission to care.

The highest proportionate rises were seen for emotional abuse and neglect.

The figures from Tusla show a drop in the number of children in care for 2013.

The four types of abuse are:

  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Neglect

Neglect occurs where a child suffers significant harm by being deprived of such things as food, clothes, hygiene, medical care, intellectual stimulation and supervision. The neglect generally becomes apparent in different ways over time rather than at a specific point. Significant harm occurs where the child’s needs are neglected to such an extent that his/her wellbeing and/or development are severely affected.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse occurs where a child’s need for affection, approval and security is not being met by the child’s parents or carer. Examples of this are unreasonable disciplinary measures, premature imposition of responsibility and exposure to domestic violence. The effects of emotional abuse on a child are shown through the child’s behaviour, emotional state or development.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse occurs where a child is deliberately injured or is injured due to the deliberate failure of the child’s carer to protect the child. Examples of physical abuse are shaking a child, use of excessive force or allowing a substantial risk of injury to a child.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse occurs where a child is used by someone for their own, or someone else’s, gratification or sexual arousal.

Advice, guidance and support can be found here