Neglect, Abuse Most Common Factors for Children in Care

Resource type: News

The Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Pamela Duncan

Neglect, abuse and mental illness among parents are among the most common reasons for children coming before the child care courts, a project established last year to examine and report on childcare proceedings has found.

The first interim report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project found that child neglect accounted for over a fifth of 333 cases, involving 573 children, which came before the courts between December 2012 and July 2013.

The second most common reason for an order being sought before the courts (17.7 per cent of cases) was on ‘multiple’ grounds, which might include neglect, abuse, domestic violence, alcohol and/or drug abuse and mental illness.

Abuse, which could include sexual, physical or emotional abuse, was the main grounds for the application in almost 13.2 per cent of cases.

Parents with a mental illness or intellectual disability was the main reason for a court order being sought in 12 per cent of cases while drug abuse by parents was cited in more than one in 10 cases.

The report found that a “totally disproportionate” number of African children came before the courts: children of African origin were 20 times more likely than Irish children to be subject of child care proceedings.

While the authors of the report note that the statistics provide “no easy explanations” for this finding, their analysis of the statistics lead them to suggest that parental mental illness/intellectual disability and parental absence were the two main reasons for African children coming into care.

The report pointed out that, in some cases, African mothers were referred directly from direct provision hostels to psychiatric hospitals. It noted that while “it is not possible to state where the origin of their mental health lay… it is not unreasonable to speculate that the experiences which led them to seek asylum, combined with the experience of lengthy direct provision…were major contributory factors”.

It said the “largest single reason” for African children appearing before the courts was abuse, usually physical abuse linked to excessive parental discipline, some of which was severe and involved the use of implements. The report said that this raised issues of cultural difference which, while unacceptable, need to be addressed more broadly rather than through the child care courts.

It also noted that the proportion of African children whose parents were absent related to children who were either trafficked into Ireland or abandoned by those claiming to be their parents after arriving here.

The interim report found that one in five children in care has special needs, almost always psychological or educational.

The Child Care Reporting Project, officially launched by the Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald in November last year, aims to address an anomaly posed by the in camera rule which means that journalists and other members of the public are prohibited from attending childcare proceedings.

As the interim report notes: “This meant that there could be no transparency to what is a very draconian power in the hands of the State – to take children away from their parents and place them in State care”.

The project seeks to collect data to provide statistics and identify trends relating to children and families who come before the child care courts.

The project seeks to balance the “extreme sensitivity surrounding child care cases” with the need to “provide information to the public and to all those involved in the child care system about how it is working through the courts”.

The first interim report, published today covers the first nine months of the project.

As well data analysis of 333 cases, representing about 10 per cent of child care cases which came before the courts between December 2012 and July 2013, the report also provides in-depth analysis of 83 reports published on the project’s website.

In its analysis of these 83 case-reports, the project concludes that “the overall impression created…is of the existence of a cohort of children who need protection and nurture if they are to grow and develop, and who are not getting this from their parents for various reasons”.

“Child care proceedings cannot answer all these problems. But by shining a light on them hopefully they can stimulate a debate on how to break the cycles of poverty, social exclusion, mental health problems and addictions that are affecting some of our children”.

The report notes that a small minority of children are abused or neglected in families in which cases the State has a legislative and constitutional duty to intervene.

It says that a “targeted and adequate intervention requires the investment of resources that are scarce at the moment”, adding that a failure to intervene “will not only condemn some children to replicate the dysfunctional lives of their parents, it will impose a heavy cost on society which will have to deal with the long-term fall-out for these children and future generations”.

Child Care Law Reporting Project is an Atlantic grantee via Children’s Rights Alliance.