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Children at risk: failing the vulnerable

  • 15 May 2017

Tusla has been starved of resources and political will. The State has responsibility to care for vulnerable children and young people when their parents or guardians are unable to do so. Yet, an independent review published this week shines yet another harsh light on the ability of our social services to respond to the needs of children whose safety or welfare is at risk

Almost 150 young people who were in contact with social services have died since 2010, according to research by an independent panel for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Most deaths were linked to natural causes, followed by suicides, accidents, drug overdoses and homicides.

Although the review did not find any connection between deaths and any inaction on the part of Tusla, case reviews of five deaths, in particular, make for troubling reading. They reveal missed opportunities, poor practice and acute pressure on frontline social workers. They also document gaps in communication between different State agencies as well as inadequate assessments, particularly where parental addiction and domestic violence were involved. These cases demonstrate again how a system designed to protect the most vulnerable children is not responding to the urgent needs of many of themuntil it is too late.

These are not new issues. The establishment of a single agency three years ago with responsibility for child protection was suppose to change this. The promise from government ministers at the time was that it would deliver a "seamless integration of policy and service delivery" and that Tusla would be a "ferocious corporate parent", demanding the best for children.

The promises remain unfulfilled. Tusla has been starved of both resources and political will. As a result, it has been left to limp along with enough capacity to function but nowhere near enough to shift the agency's focus from firefighting towards early intervention. In the absence of real change, there is every chance that next year's report will document the same problems. A failure to invest in these vital services is a failure to protect vulnerable children. As a society, we have choices to make.