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Gardai criticise HSE services after boy forced to stay in station

Resource type: News

Irish Independent |

Original Source By Ralph Riegel, Tom Brady and Louise Hogan IRELAND faces an imminent tragedy involving vulnerable children because of the chronic shortage of ‘out-of-hours’ social worker resources. The warning came as the Health Service Executive (HSE) was heavily criticised by a powerful garda association after a 15-year old boy had to spend the night on a camp bed in a Cork garda station because social workers could not be contacted on emergency phone numbers. The boy — who was described to the Irish Independent as “very vulnerable” — was cared for by gardai at Mallow Station in North Cork after officers repeatedly failed to contact HSE personnel after locating him around 9pm on July 1. This is the latest in a series of incidents involving vulnerable minors highlighted by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI). A similar incident was reported earlier this month at Coolock in Dublin. Now, Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan has been challenged to take urgent action to ensure the provision of a countrywide out-of-hours social worker service to care for children at risk. Minister for Children Barry Andrews yesterday described the incident as “wholly unacceptable” that children at risk should have to be accommodated in garda stations. He said the Government was fully committed to developing comprehensive services for children and high-level discussions with the HSE were ongoing. However, Mr Andrews admitted the level of out-of-hours care services varied countrywide. Senior gardai expressed fury at a HSE explanation that at-risk children cannot be catered for outside of a 9am to 5pm basis from Monday to Friday — and that gardai were equipped to deal with emergencies. Barnardos’ chief executive Fergus Finlay said the issues has been repeatedly raised but nothing had been done. Terrible “The worst thing that could happen would be that we would finally get action after another terrible tragedy,” he said. AGSI national executive member Willie Gleeson warned that it was “an utter disgrace” to suggest that gardai were responsible for the ‘out-of-hours’ care of troubled children. “Gardai are not trained to deal with children on this basis and garda stations are a totally unsuitable environment for dealing with them,” he said. Gardai have formally raised the issue with the Department of Health, and a number of other bodies — and are now pressing for a formal review by Ms Logan’s office. However, the HSE stressed that it was not simply a case of all cases being referred to gardai out of hours. “Community-based child protection social work services are provided by the HSE in North Cork and other local health areas between Monday and Friday from 9am to 5pm. Under Section 12 of the Child Care Act, the gardai are enabled to respond to emergencies outside of normal working hours,” a HSE spokesperson explained. The HSE stressed that they had an excellent working relationship with gardai. “At weekends and outside of normal office hours there are a range of options as regards making contact with the HSE — including the accident and emergency department at Cork University Hospital,” they said. The HSE said a working group had been established to review the out-of-hours’ service. Kevin Callinan, from the trade union IMPACT, said there were also major gaps in the existing 9am-to-5pm social work services. “With the current recruitment restrictions and financial cutbacks it is difficult to see how the HSE will be able proceed with this development,” he said.

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