Home > Dail Eireann debate. Child and Family Agency Bill 2013: Second Stage (Continued).

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Child and Family Agency Bill 2013: Second Stage (Continued). (17 Jul 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

…..Deputy Ciara Conway: I thank the Minister for bringing the legislation before the House this evening. From our involvement in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, she will know this is an area of huge interest and the Bill represents a significant step forward in the area. In recent years we have had up to 17 major reports on child protection, mainly chronicling the period from 2000 to 2010. Although I am slow to make a political football out of it, I have seen other politicians make a political football out of the issue. Given that Fianna Fáil Members were jumping up and down about the pace of this legislation coming before the House, I find it very disappointing that there is nobody from Fianna Fáil in the House now. During the period from 2000 to 2010 when they were in government, they failed to act. 

Today represents a very significant step forward for children in this country. I have listened very closely to the debate. While resources are very important, they do not reflect the full story. Real reform is about practice and how we do things differently. Over a number of years in reaction to the various scandalous reports of how children's needs were neglected, money was thrown at it, but things did not change. I am very hopeful that things have changed in the run-up to the establishment of this agency. Up to now there was no standard model for risk assessment or referral; very limited interagency working; a shocking deficit in information and data management; poor budgeting and cost management; and an absence of accountability. What do those things mean? They mean it is very difficult for social workers - I was one before my election to this House - who often have to manage up to 25 or 30 cases.
In the research carried out prior to the establishment of this agency, the national audit of neglect cases has shown the harsh reality of neglect. Up to 62% of families had family dysfunction associated with chronic alcohol or drug misuse, which is a very significant figure. As other speakers have mentioned, neglect is a very difficult thing to challenge. For example, a child may present in school, at a youth club or in a GP's surgery looking very unkempt, hungry and with poor colour. It may be a once-off incident and one may decide to give it another chance. However, the second time it happens, the person makes the referral. The social worker then goes out to visit and may discover the mother might be having a difficult time managing the household budget or have other stresses in her life. She might get some support, allowing the case to be closed. However, at times such cases have not been documented properly or there was not a proper filing system. As a result the child may subsequently present with signs of physical or emotional neglect, but the pieces of the jigsaw are not put together and it may result in a really serious case, such as we saw in County Roscommon.
The establishment of the agency will result in increased supervision of staff, being able to measure the kind of pressure people are under, while putting into place the overall systems regarding appropriate assessment, referral and paperwork. I have come across incomplete reports because people failed to keep records. As a social worker I was always very aware of the importance of keeping my notes as if somebody from the family was looking over my shoulder. Social workers should write the truth and write reports honestly because they are building up a picture of how these children are being affected. Sometimes without all the information it is very difficult to target the correct service to that family or child to ensure a better outcome.
The HSE carried out an audit in my area, Waterford. The pilot phase of the audit led to a substantive structural alteration of the deployment and governance of child protection services in Waterford. There needs to be a full review of what was learned from the audit carried out to provide assurances that children are being adequately protected. In addition new internal quality assurance arrangements have been introduced, including an increase in the frequency of staff supervision. It can be very trying for social workers who are faced with these very difficult situations in people's homes - and also very difficult for the families. There is a very high staff turnover in child protection for a number of reasons, including the gender and age profile of staff, who may be on maternity leave more than other cohorts in the HSE. In my class of 90 people there were two men and the rest of women. It is a predominantly female workforce. It is also a very difficult job and if management are not looking after the staff appropriately and providing with them the kind of supervision they require to ensure they are meeting their professional standards, it can be a very difficult and trying situation for any worker.
Deputy Shortall spoke about primary care. I refute the points she made about there being no joined-up thinking. If we are still thinking that everybody needs to be in the same building sitting at a desk across from one another to interact and share information on children and families appropriately, we are in a much worse situation than I thought. Not having people sitting in the same building or sharing an office does not prevent the high-quality interagency work going ahead. I have every faith that primary care centres will continue to work and liaise with the child and family agency to ensure we get in early and are able to deal particularly with cases of neglect that have serious and long-lasting consequences for children and families.
I refer again to the national audit of neglect cases carried out. In 62% of such families the biggest issue was alcohol misuse……….
Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 812 No. 1

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