Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Roscommon Child Care Inquiry

On the 22nd January 2009 Mrs A, a mother of six children, was sentenced in Roscommon Circuit Court to seven years in prison following her conviction for incest, neglect and ill treatment. The presiding Judge, Judge Miriam Reynolds (RIP) said the children were failed by everyone around them and that she was concerned that, while the former Western Health Board had been involved since 1996, the children had not been taken into care until 2004.

In the Central Criminal Court on March 5th 2010 Mr Justice Barry White sentenced Mr A to fourteen years in prison following his conviction for rape and sexual assault.

Today the HSE published the Report of the Roscommon Child Care Inquiry. The Inquiry had been established by the HSE to:

• Examine the entire management of this case from a care perspective,
• Identify any shortcomings or deficits to the care management process and,
• Make a Report on the findings and any learning arising from the investigation.

The Report is shocking and heartbreaking. No child should have to endure such abuse and neglect and the litany of repeated failures by the HSE is infuriating. The full Report can be found here - http://bit.ly/br3Bez

What is clear to me from reading the Report is that the need for the Children First Guidelines to be put on a statutory basis with failure to comply being a criminal offence could not be more urgent. The Report states that ‘prior to their admission to care, the voice of the child is virtually silent... Yet a basic requirement in the delivery of child protection services is the necessity to at least see the children and, ideally, to seek their views of their situation. This is set out as a key task in Children First... and its absence in practice has been identified as a deficit in other inquiry reports (Ferguson, 2007)’ The Report also states that while HSE staff were briefed, there was no systematic effort to embed Children First into practice. The failure to put a legal responsibility on people to be Children First compliant ensures we continue to fail children abysmally.

For me the Report also demonstrates yet again the absolute need for Government to hold the referendum to properly enshrine children’s rights into the Constitution. Again we are told that ‘The absence of the child’s voice was also evident in court proceedings. This was most noticeable in the High Court injunction proceedings taken by the parents to prevent the Western Health Board from removing the children from their parents. There, for constitutional and legal reasons, the parents’ right to be heard was not matched by equal consideration of the wishes or the needs of the children’. Further on we are told that ‘The failure to consult with, and to hear, the voice of the six children was a notable feature in this case’. We must, as a matter of urgency, have a referendum which guarantees children constitutional rights including the right that .... In the resolution of all disputes concerning the guardianship, adoption, custody, care or upbringing of a child, the welfare and best interests of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration.

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