Vulnerable children "re-traumatised" by Ireland's child protection system

The audit was commissioned following concerns over the removal of two Roma children from their parents in 2013

Updated 12:00pm

The ISPCC has warned that a “damning” new report, released this morning, has shown chronic failings across the entire child protection system in Ireland.

The audit of more than 5,400 cases over the past eight years examined the emergency removal of children from their families by the Gardaí.

Calling for a complete cultural change in the system, the report found many officers were poorly trained with serious weaknesses in procedures after children had been removed.

Children with nowhere left to go have found themselves brought to hospitals and garda stations, according to the report – at times without a social worker to explain what was happening.

Gardaí commissioned Professor Geoffrey Shannon – a leading authority in Child and Family Law – to undertake the audit following concerns over the removal of two Roma children from their parents in Tallaght in 2013.

Professor Shannon is Deputy Director of Education and Senior Lecturer in Child and Family Law at the Law Society of Ireland was appointed Special Rapporteur on Child Protection in 2006.

Speaking as he delivered the research this morning, Professor Shannon said the findings are "profoundly shocking, disturbing and deeply distressing."

"What we see is the shattered lives of many children," he said. "It is not a question of attributing blame to individual agencies, I think this report is a wake-up call for Irish society."

The report also found evidence of the repeated removal of children from the same family circumstances by gardaí – while communication, co-operation and co-ordination between State agencies was found to be poor and limited.

Tusla's out of hours social work was also found to be “inadequate” - as some children had to wait in hospital for services to reopen, while others were returned to the same home they had been removed from.

It found that gardaí are often forced to take young children to garda stations or hospitals as the only available place of safety.

Re-traumatising children

Following the release of the report, Caroline O'Sullivan, the interim chief executive of the ISPCC told Newstalk that vulnerable children are being re-traumatised by the experiences with child protection services.

She said confused children often blame themselves for the systems failings.

“These children have been living in very, very difficult circumstances,” she said. “They were already vulnerable, they have been traumatised by their experience, traumatised by the fact that they are being removed by the gardaí and in many cases not having a social worker with them and then are being put into a garda station.”

“So these children then, how can they look at this in any other way, other than ‘I have done something wrong here.’”

She said the authorities now have to “take immediate action” and begin treating the difficulties facing the child protection system as a “matter of national importance.”

She called for the report’s 17 recommendations to be implemented immediately adding, “If they are not we will actually be here again in another 12 months or another five years looking at the same issues that children are experiencing around this country.

“We have to admit finally that Tusla has got to have the resources - and Tusla and the gardaí have to change culturally the way they view children and the way we treat children in this country,” she said.

Child care act

The report examines the use of Section 12 of the Child Care Act - a provision that allows gardaí to remove children from their families when the children are at serious and immediate risk.

The report found no evidence of racial profiling influencing the removal of children – with strong factual grounds for removal in cases involving minority children or families.

This finding had to be qualified however – as accurate and consistent information could not be found on the garda PULSE system in all cases.

Tusla response

In a statement this morning Tusla said an inter-agency approach to child protection is “of paramount importance,” adding collaboration with the gardaí has significantly improved since the research for the report was undertaken.

It said no Tusla staff were interviewed as part of the audit, insisting that there are “many excellent examples at a local level of Tusla staff and members of an Garda Siochana working collaboratively.”

the statement also said the agency developed an emergency out of hours service which began operating in November 2015.