I thank Deputies Rabbitte and O'Rourke for this important question. I will address the issue of children in situations of immediate risk first and then I will address the issue of neglect.
Children who are in a situation of immediate risk may initially be dealt with by An Garda Síochána or by Tusla, but in the main both agencies work together in such cases. Tusla, when alerted to a child at immediate risk, for instance a young child left alone at home or abandoned, will contact An Garda Síochána if the child needs to be removed from the situation. The Garda may, under its section 12 powers in the Child Care Act, remove the child from danger and Tusla will then receive the child into its custody and, following an assessment, may apply for an emergency care order. Tusla has emergency foster placements available for such situations.
Where a child is identified as being at immediate risk from an adult, Tusla will identify if the child can be protected from that person by their parent or by the removal of the adult posing the risk. In such situations, Tusla will consult with relevant professionals to share information and to develop a safety plan for the child. If a child cannot be protected in their home, Tusla will apply to the courts for an emergency care order.
In cases of child neglect, a comprehensive assessment is needed, often involving a number of professionals, and progress needs to be tracked over time. Neglect is more common than physical abuse or sexual abuse, although there is evidence that children who are neglected may also suffer from physical and sexual abuse.
In neglect cases, parents will be supported to improve their parenting, and parental problems that contribute to the neglect will be identified for intervention. Parental substance misuse is a key indicator of risk for children. This was highlighted by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon in his report on the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána. It is a feature in some cases that an immediate improvement may not be sustained, which is why it is important for the child's situation to be monitored over time.
If a child appears to be at risk of harm or neglect, concerns should be reported to Tusla. Anyone can report a concern about a child to Tusla and information on how to do so is available on the Tusla website. If a child is at immediate risk or in danger, the Garda should be alerted without delay.