Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Roscommon child abuse case - what we need to know

The Health Service Executive has appointed Norah Gibbons of Barnardos to head an independent inquiry into the Roscommon child abuse case. Few people in child protection work in Ireland have higher credibility than Norah Gibbons. She is nobody's fool. I wish her well.

Below is my article from The Herald of Friday, 23rd January, 2009 on the questions to which we need answers:

The history of child protection is signposted by a series of inquiries.


Each inquiry marks a failure. Each comes too late for one or more children - such as the inquiry into the death from extreme neglect of 15 year old Kelly Fitzgerald in 1993. She died even though when she moved to Co Mayo, West Lambeth Health Authority warned the Western Health Board of its worries and sent its child protection files to the WHB.


And now we have the Roscommon case and another inquiry inevitably on the way. In a sense this inquiry is different from the others because this case marks such a widespread failure on the part of the whole social system that surrounded the children.


Here are questions to which we need answers:


- Court evidence suggests there were concerns about child welfare in this family since the birth of the first child in 1989. What was done about this?


- Why did it take until 2000 for an arrangement to be made to put the children into the voluntary care of a maternal aunt and uncle given that further concerns had been raised  in 1996?


- Why did the High Court prevent this arrangement from going ahead and who helped the mother to take the case?


- The court heard that a "Catholic right-wing organisation" had helped the mother to seek the injunction. A social worker stated in court that he suspected the involvement of Mína Bean Uí Chroibín in the application. Who are these people and what was their involvement, if any, in the legal process?


- The health authorities applied to have the High Court order lifted in 2001 but was told it should stay in place until a child care order was made by the District Court. Why? Did the health board seek such an order? If not, why not?


- The children went to school in a condition which made it obvious they were being neglected. What did the school do about this?


- Were these children seen by doctors of nurses during their childhood? What did they see?


- An official Garda investigation began in 2004. Did anybody make a report to Gardaí in the years prior to that?


These are just some of the questions to which we need answers about this specific case. There are wider issues too.


Legally it would appear that social workers can only take a child into care on a compulsory basis if there is a serious and immediate risk to the child. Is this too restrictive and should it be changed?


Where is the promised constitutional referendum on the rights of the child?


Is the health board/HSE system capable of running an effective child protection system or is it time to give this task to a separate, dedicated agency?


A statement from the Irish Association of Social Workers this morning gives a strong impression that other children may be at risk of the same sort of neglect and abuse in other families. Let's get to work.




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