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Constitutional guarantees to protect children mere lip-service unless authorities are fully resourced to PREVENT and combat abuse

27 January, 2009 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking during this evening Dáil debate on child protection Sinn Féin's Health and Children Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD described the Roscommon child abuse case as a "tragic example of a failed system which is based on dealing with the aftermath of abuse rather than its prevention." Putting forward a heaving emphasis on prevention the Cavan Monaghan TD noted that a massive overhaul across the child protection system was urgently needed, adding "Constitutional guarantees to protect children are mere lip-service unless authorities are resourced to PREVENT and combat neglect and abuse." He also welcomed the willingness of Norah Gibbons of Bernardos to participate in the Roscommon case inquiry.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"A wave of revulsion swept across the nation as the details of the Roscommon child abuse case emerged over the course of last week. This case of appalling abuse, while shocking, is also a symptom of a thoroughly defective system of child protection in operation across this State. Each year, there are approximately 2,500 cases of suspected child abuse reported to the social services. We have no system of mandatory reporting so this figure may only be scratching the surface - the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) Study Report told us that over a quarter of men and women had experienced some level of childhood sexual abuse.
"The unimaginable suffering inflicted upon these children in Roscommon highlights the urgent need to strengthen children's rights and greatly improve resources to protect vulnerable children. Sinn Féin has consistently and repeatedly called for the rights of children to be enshrined in the Constitution and be protected fully in legislation. For the past number of days members of the public have queried how it could be possible that a person could abuse their family in this manner and receive only seven years in prison? The answer is simply that this happened because the abuser was prosecuted under archaic legislation, due to the ineptitude of a government that until 2006 had failed to implement a law providing lengthier sentences for the offences committed in this case.
"We need urgent measures to enhance the social services for vulnerable children. Children are being abused and neglected or left at risk of abuse and neglect even though their files are in the hands of the HSE and they are known to be in grave danger. That situation cannot be allowed to continue.
"Increased resources, training and other measures are needed immediately to ensure that sexual assaults and child sexual abuse are thoroughly and sensitively investigated and prosecuted. Victims/Survivors need to receive the necessary support to proceed with and complete a prosecution. A new, robust and specific law prohibiting child sexual abuse is needed in the context of a complete review and overhaul of sexual offences legislation and full enshrinement of children's rights.
"There are suggestions by those in the treatment-sector that the number of people in the state with harmful sexual behaviour is far above the 3,000 mark and still, despite this distressing figure, there are monumental gaps in a health service.
"There is no one system of assessing an allegation of abuse or potential for a person to re-offend. No standard method of treatment or rehabilitation for those who abuse. Where there is what appears to be a decent system in the first instance, we find it is wholly underfunded. Social workers are overloaded with cases and have no uniform method of tracking a person's risk of offending or, equally, tracking any risk that a person will be abused. The 2001 Childcare Act gives health boards powers to intervene where there is suspected abuse and to provide support services but this Act has not yet been fully implemented. These may be some of the reasons why it took the social services eight years to take the children of Roscommon abuse case into care.
"A constitutional referendum on the position of children within our society will only partially solve the problem. Fully resourcing a system where cases of abuse are dealt with on an ad-hoc emergency basis will only partially solve the problem. It is clear now a massive overhaul is needed across the board. Constitutional guarantees to protect children are mere lip-service unless authorities are resourced to prevent and combat neglect and abuse. The Roscommon child abuse case is a tragic example of a failed system which is based on dealing with the aftermath of abuse rather than preventing it from the beginning. This is not a time for mere hand-wringing; this is a time for making changes to a child protection structure that does not work." ENDS

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