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Home > Findings of HIQA Inspection of the child protection and welfare services provided to children living in direct provision raises serious concerns.

[HIQA] Findings of HIQA Inspection of the child protection and welfare services provided to children living in direct provision raises serious concerns. (25 May 2015)

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The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published a report on its inspection of the child protection and welfare services provided to children living in direct provision accommodation in four of the Child and Family Service Areas, namely Louth/Meath, Midlands, Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan and Dublin North City.

Mary Dunnion, Director of Regulation of HIQA said “The Authority has grave concerns about the high number of children living in direct provision centres who have been referred to The Child and Family Agency. Approximately 14% of the population of children living in direct provision were referred to the Child and Family Agency in one year which is a significantly higher referral rate than for the general child population of 1.6%.”

There were approximately 1600 children living in direct provision accommodation in Ireland, and of these children, there were 209 referrals of child protection and welfare concerns relating to 229 children between August 2013 and August 2014. Of these referrals, 51% refer to child welfare issues while a further 49% of refer to child protection concerns.

The nature of the welfare referrals varied but there were some common themes such as:
physical or mental illness of parent impacting on capacity to provide quality care for children
mental health issues for children and parents
lack of clothes and toys
parent(s) isolating themselves and their children from networks and support services

Common themes for protection concerns were:
physical abuse due to excessive physical chastisement
protection concerns about older children left caring for younger children
children being left alone for significant periods of time
exposure to incidents of domestic violence
proximity of children to unknown adults living on the same site and inappropriate contact by adults towards some children

In Louth/Meath, there were significant delays in social work interventions. Of particular concern was that in 27 out of the 38 cases reviewed, children were not met with or seen by social workers to inform their decision making about the referral even though records indicated concerns about their safety and welfare. There were significant delays in completing assessments and sharing information, which placed children at risk. In this area children did not all receive the services they needed, initial assessments were not completed and some risks were not addressed. In one case there were significant concerns about an allegation of physical abuse of two children and the case was closed without children being visited.

In Laois/Offaly, there was one referral about a child threatening suicide where the child was waiting three years for a response from the social work team.

Inspectors found that on occasion the Reception and Integration Agency moved families for safety reasons but gaps in communication between the providers and the Child and Family Agency at local level meant that this information was not always passed on and, as a result, some social work interventions were delayed or did not happen and potentially placed children at risk.

To support these children and families, many staff provided excellent child-centred services, advocating for children and meeting their needs through timely and effective interventions, including seeking respite foster care for children, the provision of high-quality family support and ensuring children were safe through home visits and listening carefully to children about their lives.

Ms Dunnion added that “The quality of the child protection and welfare service provided to children across the four areas sampled in this inspection was radically inconsistent. The quality and level of service varied widely across the four areas visited. A good quality of service was provided to these children and their families in Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan and in Dublin North City. In the Midlands the service was mixed but in Louth Meath the service was much poorer and some risks had not been identified and addressed by managers. There was no strategic plan in place to identify and meet the needs of this particularly vulnerable group of children and families.

“The inspection team also found that there were no standardised protocols on how the Child and Family Agency and the providers of direct provision accommodation should work together, liaise and share information at a local, operational level. For example, inspectors found 16 cases in three service areas where families involved with child protection and welfare services were moved between centres unknown to their social workers.” concluded Ms Dunnion.

The Authority has further concerns about referrals arising from children’s living conditions that were outside that of the control of the Child and Family Agency. These related to referrals which included inappropriate contact by adults towards some children in accommodation centres, children sustaining accidental injuries where cramped living conditions were identified as a contributing factor and exposure of children to violence between residents.

HIQA has made four recommendations to the Child and Family Agency:
• develop an inter-cultural strategy to inform the provision of social services to ethnic minority children and families
• complete an audit to ensure there are no children at risk of harm because of outstanding or incomplete assessments due to the movement of families between accommodation centres
• ensure effective interagency and inter-professional co-operation with key stakeholders to ensure decisions consider the best interests of children
• gather information on referrals to their services about children in direct provision accommodation to inform strategic planning.


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