Welfare of children at risk thanks to penny-pinching HSE

Reports that the HSE is unable to respond adequately to hundreds of cases of vulnerable children because of staff shortages and under-resourcing is a further indication that our health services, and our child protection services in particular, are run on the basis of profit and loss accounts and balance sheets, rather than on the basis of the needs of vulnerable children.

The book-keeping culture that prevails in the HSE has led to a situation where the protection afforded to children is largely confined to emergency action. Local child protection teams simply don’t have the resources they require to make early interventions, in order to prevent a problem in a family escalating into a crisis.

Social work teams are hugely under-resourced, and thanks to the HSE staff recruitment embargo, just about every one of them is operating well below full staff complement.

When you consider the massive backlogs in many areas of the country, the lack of an out-of-hours service, and the lack of specialist residential places for children with challenging behaviour, the scale of the problem is massive.

In addition, it is unacceptable that the information which emerged today is three years old at this stage. Under the Child Care Act 1991, the HSE is obliged to report on their child care activities on an annual basis. There is little value to this requirement if the information they provide is not delivered in a timely basis, so that problems can be identified, addressed and resolved quickly.

It is also extraordinary that the report referred to in today’s Irish Times appears to have been sent to the Minister by the HSE in late February, but is only coming to public attention today. While the report was placed on the HSE web-site some weeks ago, both the Minister and the HSE must ensure that there is immediate publication of such reports in the future, especially where their contents are already years out of date.