Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Child Care Inquiry Report: Statements


2:00 pm

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)

I thank the Minister of State for his apology, on behalf of the State, that it did not intervene in time to remove the children concerned from such horrendous circumstances. It was so perverse that it was like Nazi Germany's treatment of human beings. In the first instance, the children were failed by their perverted parents and then by incompetent State services when signs that pointed to a need to remove them from obvious risk were ignored. It is a damning indictment that a proper decision on appropriate care was not taken until one of the children actually asked to be taken into care. A child knew that the lack of care, or, more correctly, neglect, was abnormal, yet trained professionals did not identify the warning signs.

Yesterday the HSE gave an unreserved apology for its failure to protect the children, but, with all due respect to the Minister of State, people will have to be held to account for what they did. Judgment must be passed on their incompetence.

The findings of the Roscommon child care inquiry report detail how once again the State and its legal system spectacularly failed to protect our children. The report clearly shows that the parents of the children successfully blocked the State in intervening to protect them by citing their constitutional rights as a marital family. The Constitution does not grant individual rights to children within marital families. Critically, the parents' right to be heard was not matched by an equal right to give consideration to the wishes and needs of the children. The inquiry team highlights the fact that the voice of the children was virtually silent, both in the court proceedings and the HSE conference notes. This highlights once again the need for constitutional change to give children in vulnerable circumstances a voice.

The report focuses on the role of the HSE which, without doubt, failed in its duty of care to protect the children. The report also highlights the concerns raised consistently by relatives and neighbours to draw attention to the plight of the children. This is hard to credit, given all of the reports we have received in recent years on the exposure of the treatment of children by the State and its servants. I cannot understand how the professionals who dealt with the children were so incompetent as not to be able to open their mouths and protect them. It is clear that there must be constitutional reform as a matter of urgency to ensure children are protected. Hundreds of children are living with unapproved carers, a matter I have raised before. It is spine chilling. Social workers are unable to respond to the thousands of cases of suspected abuse and neglect. More than 100 young people in care or who were in contact with social services died from neglect or a drug overdose; we do not even know whether they were murdered.

Childline receives 2,000 calls a day from children, but only 62% of calls are answered owing to a lack of resources. The backlog of applications for Garda vetting has reached crisis point. Around 60,000 applications are being processed by the Garda central vetting unit, with a turnover time of between ten and 12 weeks. According to the Children's Rights Alliance which represents about 90 voluntary organisations dealing with children, we are reaching crisis point.

I cite the most important words of Mr. Justice John McMenamin that the children should not be asked to relive the experience. In his words, the children want it to be understood they are normal young people and should not have to bear a further burden as regards the way they have been treated by their parents and the State services.


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