Almost 30,000 reports of suspected abuse, neglect of children as well as general welfare concerns were reported in 2010 to social services, according to a new official report.
The findings are in the Health Service Executive’s Review of Adequacy of Child and Family Services for 2010 and 2009. The number of cases reported increased a quarter in just three years.
The HSE has not produced one of these reports in a number of years, despite the fact that it is obliged by law to do so, the Irish Times reports.
The trend of increasing reports of abuse “is likely to continue . . . unless more resources are provided for early intervention to help families before the concerns escalate,” the report warns.
The report comes ahead of the publication later this week of a major report into the deaths of children in contact with social services over a 10-year period.
The independent report, by child law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Barnardos director of advocacy Norah Gibbons, is understood to raise a series of concerns about poor social work practice, a lack of co-operation between State agencies and a crisis-driven approach to child protection.
In 2010, Ms Gibbons said that the HSE's child protection services were “not fit for purpose”.
Speaking at the McGill Summer School, Ms Gibbons said of the HSE: "There is a lack of leadership, a lack of clear national standards, a lack of a clear assessment model and no national agreement on the threshold we as a nation want to set in respect of protecting our children."
The Review of Adequacy of Child and Family Services, meanwhile, shows that reports of suspected abuse or neglect rose by 26 per cent between 2007 and 2010. When broken down by category, suspected abuse rose by 23 per cent, while welfare reports were up by almost 30 per cent.
Social services are obliged to respond to all reports and assess the wellbeing of children. However successive reports have shown that thousands of cases each year do not receive an initial assessment.
In 2009, for example, only 15,600 of the 26,900 reports – 58 per cent – of suspected abuse or neglect received an initial assessment. The 2010 document does not provide figures on the gap between reports and initial assessments.
The report says a major reason is inconsistencies over the interpretation of what constitutes an initial assessment and preliminary inquiry. It would be “unhelpful” to provide the 2010 figures on the basis that a standardised approach to categorising these responses is still under way, the report states.
A breakdown of reports made in 2010 shows that concerns over child welfare were most common (56 per cent), followed by neglect (16 per cent), sexual abuse (10 per cent) and physical abuse (9 per cent). Significant numbers of suspected abuse or neglect were not confirmed.