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Child protection groups criticise HSE cutbacks

Resource type: News

The Irish Times |

by CARL O’BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

CHILD PROTECTION groups warned yesterday that vulnerable young people will be at risk as a result of the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) decision to suspend plans for a 24-hour social care service. The HSE wrote to unions in the last fortnight to say plans for a €15 million out-of-hours social work service have been put on hold as a result of budgetary constraints.

Demands for a proper out-of-hours service have been growing in recent years following the tragic sudden deaths of children in a number of high-profile incidents. These include the deaths of a family of four in Monageer, Co Wexford, last year and the deaths of Sharon Grace and her two daughters in Wexford town two years ago.

Instead, the HSE is now focusing on the provision of emergency placements for children outside of office hours within existing services such as residential care, AE and mental health services. Hugh Kane, the HSE’s assistant national director with responsibility for children’s services, said the new plans were being finalised and should be in place within the next two months.

“Our new proposals will strengthen the co-operation between the HSE and gardaí, who have the authority to take children into care day or night. We’ll be providing all authorities and professionals with the appropriate access and information necessary to secure the safety and health of children on an out-of-hours basis,” Mr Kane said.

He was unable to say if the plans for a national out-of-hours social care service will be back on the agenda in the future. He suggested that it may be a better use of resources to use the 80 new posts – the total number of staff needed to run a national out-of-hours service – in preventive work in communities rather than on an emergency service.

Minister of State for Health and Children Barry Andrews yesterday said the Government remained committed to the development of a comprehensive needs-based service for children at risk. However, Norah Gibbons, Barnardos’ director of advocacy, said the decision was the “worst possible” form of cost savings as it was hitting the most vulnerable members of the community.

“We do not want to see another Monageer. Nor do we want to see innocent children sleeping in AE departments or police stations, as a 15-year-old boy recently did, because there is no care plan in place for troubled youngsters outside of normal working hours,” she said.

Jillian van Turnhout of the Children’s Rights Alliance, a coalition of 80 non-governmental organisations, said the decision was a “sad indictment of Ireland’s treatment of its children and, as a nation, we should be deeply ashamed”. She added: “There is something fundamentally wrong with our society when we have 24-hour emergency access to vets, IT support, car breakdown assistance and plumbers, but nobody on the other end of the phone when a vulnerable child requires emergency accommodation and support.”

The ISPCC said it was clear that the intervention and support of vulnerable children was not deemed to be a financial priority for the Government. The HSE said it will be formalising direct contact arrangements for out-of-hours services for gardaí and will be engaging with the appropriate Garda authorities on this and other matters over the coming weeks.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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