Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (1)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

1. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the procedures in place for children in a situation of immediate risk and-or neglect at home; if there is a process of engagement between the HSE, Tusla and her Department for immediate intervention in cases in which neglect has been identified as a serious concern; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9071/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for allowing me to raise this question with the Minister. What procedures are in place for children in situations of immediate risk and-or neglect in their homes? Is there a process of engagement between the HSE, Tusla and the Department for Children and Youth Affairs for immediate intervention when neglect has been identified as a serious concern? I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter. As the Minister is aware, I am highlighting a typical case to show there is a complete breakdown of these services in my area.

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.

With respect, if that process was working, I would not need to be here raising the issue with the Minister this morning. This is another such case - I came across a case involving a similar experience before Christmas. I will focus on this case and the problem with the breakdown of the services in this area in Kildare and particularly in Kildare North.

On 29 January, both the school and this lady's sister contacted the HSE and Tusla to raise grave concerns about the neglect of and the risk to the children because the mother was using drugs in the home. Four weeks later, they have had no engagement. There was only one call from a person within the service to say she was on holidays and she would deal with it when she came back on 19 February. That is nearly a week ago and there is still no engagement. Today, the sister has intervened and taken the children into her care without any legal guardianship or any legal proceedings, meaning there is no legal cover. At any time the mother could come for those children and take them back into her care.

In addition, the mother has also informed the services of her condition. Nobody has intervened to help her and to try to get the family unit the service and support they need to get them back into the system.

The Deputy will have another minute.

This is fundamentally wrong.

I appreciate the Deputy bringing this family's case to my attention. I understand Tusla has been contacted and there was an initial response, but no follow-up, based on what he outlined. Is that correct?

That is correct.

Has there been any contact with An Garda Síochána?

There was no contact with the Garda. The only contact was with Tusla and the HSE four weeks ago in which the school and the lady's sister outlined grave concerns and risk for the two children aged 12 and 15. Such was the concern that the sister intervened to take them out of the home without any legal guidance to do so.

I appreciate, and I am certain the family appreciates, the Deputy raising the issue here.

In light of the very serious concerns identified by the Deputy, on completion of my work in the Chamber this morning I will investigate the matter and ensure that proper supports are provided. I will take the Deputy's bona fides in identifying the particulars of the case.

I take the Minister's comments in good faith and I hope she will contact me directly after Question Time. This is serious, especially for the sister who is caring for the two children without legal guardianship. There is no carer follow-up for the mother. This is one case. I highlighted another to the Minister's office and to that of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, before Christmas of a 15 year old on suicide watch. That person was in the care of the State but on two occasions was allowed to go off unattended. The person went missing for five days and was eventually found by gardaí. I am highlighting this case. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to go into others but there is a major problem with the delivery of the services in my area to help families and children at risk or who are being neglected. This is not a once-off. Sometimes, when I raise matters with Ministers they say that it is an isolated issue but this is not. There is a pattern, as these two cases demonstrate. There is concern that we are not getting delivery of services. I hope the Minister will take up this case and ensure that services are delivered for families who need them.

I appreciate the Deputy raising the matter in this context of his being a public representative for his constituency. He is doing a fine job. The Deputy suggests that there is a pattern. I will investigate that and come back to him about it and about the very vulnerable families who need the assistance of the State.