herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

State too slow to help many at-risk kids, says report

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon at the launch of the report
Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon at the launch of the report
Wheatfield Prison

Four out of every five children who are reported at risk of abuse are going weeks without being assessed by child protection officers, according to a new report.

The Children's Ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon, said he is "seriously concerned" that thousands of children are being left in vulnerable situations without "the proper, timely support from the State".

A quarter of all complaints the ombudsman received last year related to the Child and Family Support Agency (Tusla).

The annual report says that the ombudsman completed a number of investigations into the handling of abuse cases.

Concern

However, more than three quarters of initial assessments of children were carried out after the 21-day target window once a concern has been raised.

"It is of serious concern that the quarterly data issued by Tusla in 2014 indicates that there is a very low percentage of initial assessments being completed within the target time frame of 21 days," Dr Muldoon says in his report.

"According to the Quarter 2 National Performance Activity report, only 21pc (544 out of 2,580) of children in the country who required an initial assessment, following a preliminary enquiry, received one within 21 days of receipt of referral."

The report says that the issue has been raised with Tusla and that steps are being taken to address the problem.

But he also warns that "it is crucial that any child reported as being at risk of abuse is catered for in the best possible manner and receives the best service within the quickest possible time ... to minimise the length of time which they remain in a vulnerable state".

The annual report says there has been a 9pc increase in complaints to the office since 2012.

Many complaints related to children being placed in inappropriate care facilities, including direct provision centres and adult psychiatric wards and prisons.

He called on the Government to commit to moving legislation before the next election, so that all 17-year-olds will move out of Wheatfield and St Patrick's Prisons immediately.

Education was the biggest single area of concern, with 47pc of all complaints relating to bullying, individual schools, or the Department of Education itself.

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