Press Release

Minister Hanafin Launches ´Keeping Children Safe´

“Informing and educating ourselves about the problems of child abuse, child protection and child welfare, must be welcomed, and today sees the launch of the most comprehensive study of child care and protection services ever carried out in Ireland,” said Minister for Children, Mary Hanafin T.D., today (Tuesday, April 24th, 2001)

Minister Hanafin was speaking in the University of Limerick, were she launched ´Keeping Children Safe: Child Abuse, Child Protection and the Promotion of Welfare´, a book commissioned by the Mid-Western Health Board.

The Minister said that the research would have “huge implications for how we understand child abuse and develop more effective child protection systems”.

“This study has shown that 92% of referrals were directly investigated by social workers. Viewed internationally, this is a very high investigation rate,” added the Minister.

“Given the number of referrals of child abuse in Ireland (10,031 reported cases in 1999, 3,318 confirmed), this shows that child protection services are responding efficiently to the needs of thousands of children nationwide. To date, the emphasis has been on how the system has failed certain individual cases, as opposed to how the system actually works.”

“It is particularly heartening to see this research reveal that mothers were the single biggest referral category (27%), which must reflect well on the trustworthiness of the Health Board’s services,” Minister Hanafin said.

“In recent times, there has, quite rightly, been much emphasis on physical and sexual abuse of children. This study shows, in fact, that the greatest single type of abuse is that of neglect, at 21%. Poor parenting skills and an inability to cope highlight the importance of family support at an early stage. The most recent Budget has addressed this, with an extra £33.5 million being invested in child care services for this year, to assist teenage parenting programmes, family support and foster care.

Highlighting the fact that three-quarters of all cases involved families dependent on social welfare, Minister Hanafin said: “With the dramatic decrease in unemployment levels, the standard of living should increase for these and other families, and enable them to provide a better quality of life for their children”.

One of the strongest messages from this study relates to the number of these families who repeatedly come to the attention of the Health Boards.

“Many of these parents are uncooperative and opposed to dealing with those who provide child care and protection. With this research, we now have a clear profile of such people coming to the attention of health boards. Having identified this core group, it will be necessary to implement a new model to ensure that parents cannot just reject services while their children are suffering,” said the Minister.

She added that the measures to address this difficulty would involve training staff to deal with parental resistance from such families, greater co-operation between all professionals, enforcing supervision orders, and implementing the Children Bill, which makes parents more accountable.

“In this context, the recently-established National Children’s Office, which is co-ordinating the work of different Government departments, is giving a lead,” she added.

“It is imperative that relationships between health boards and parents who may be hostile to intervention, are considerably improved, so that parents do not feel threatened by the system,” the Minister stressed.

“This study highlights the need to continue our policy of investment in child care services; to back this up by adequate legislation including the Children’s Bill, which will shortly pass through the Dáil; and to increase the protections for children by implementing the ‘Children First’guidelines,” concluded Minister Mary Hanafin T.D.