Limerick academic says local child protection services are ‘in crisis’

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

CHILDREN in deprived areas of Limerick are asking friends for food on Fridays because they know they won’t get fed over the weekend, a new book on social exclusion in the city claims.

CHILDREN in deprived areas of Limerick are asking friends for food on Fridays because they know they won’t get fed over the weekend, a new book on social exclusion in the city claims.

A teacher who spoke to Dr Niamh Hourigan, editor of “Understanding Limerick”, said that even in cases where children show obvious signs of being beaten, suspected cases of neglect are not being prioritised by the HSE.

“All I hear from the HSE is ‘we don’t have the power to do anything’, or ‘we don’t have the resources to do anything’ or ‘we’re so overloaded that we won’t be able to investigate for months’...What can they do? That’s what I’d like to know” the teacher told Dr Hourigan.

It takes so long for neglect cases to get to the relevant HSE committee that the children are beyond help.

A social worker commented: “You take a child involved in antisocial behaviour who you think is at risk. Well, the only way to get action for that child is to submit a child protection notification. But only a very small proportion of all original referrals actually get approved by the Child Protection Notification Committee based on budgets etc. It’s only at that stage that you can have a case conference and get some action and the process of getting it approved takes for f**king ever”.

Another senior social worker said: “By the time we get to the point of intervening in a seriously neglected or abused child’s life, it’s nearly always too late to make any real difference. It becomes a matter for the psychiatric services or the criminal justice system, or sometimes the undertakers”.

Dr Hourigan says the blame does not lie with front-line workers in social services in Limerick or even local HSE management but concludes that Limerick Regeneration will not work unless the “crisis” in child protection services is dealt with on a national level.

Her three years of research coincided with the launch of the Regeneration programme and while she believes many of the policing and criminal justice interventions are working, “the positive impact which Regeneration has made on the work of the HSE and child protection services is much less evident”.

“I’m a sociologist so maybe you are always most critical of your own,” Dr Hourigan told the Limerick Leader. “First of all there are fantastic people locally working in the communities everyday, doing tremendous work on child protection - very often I have to say in spite of rather than because of the system. But management structures within the HSE, the legal structures, haven’t really facilitated their work at all.

“I really feel it’s an issue that has to be addressed at national level and I’m not even having too much of a go at local management in the HSE who have to work within the structures and budgets that are there. This has to be part of the Regeneration story, you can’t have one without the other...the idea that Regeneration is ever going to be successful while we have this crisis going on in child protection is, I think, untenable.”

FOR MORE ON THIS STORY SEE THE LIMERICK LEADER’S CITY EDITION