Thursday, 7 December 2017
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Children in Care
229. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the recent statement by an organisation (details supplied) that vulnerable children are being left in neglectful homes until they are harmed due to the fact social workers are not using their powers properly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52490/17]
Tusla has a statutory duty to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. The immediate safety of the child is the first consideration. Decisions made by social workers are taken with the best interests of the child in mind. This can involve balancing a complex range of factors.
Neglect is the most commonly occurring child protection issue, ahead of abuse and maltreatment. A distinction can be drawn between 'wilful' and 'circumstantial' neglect. For example, deliberately withholding food, shelter, seasonally appropriate clothing or social contact would be considered wilful neglect. Situations where parents or guardians are struggling to cope due to personal difficulties, stress or health issues may result in circumstantial neglect. Common categories of neglect include physical neglect, inadequate supervision or exposure to hazards, educational neglect, or exposure to drugs.
Upon receipt of an appropriate referral, the Duty Social Worker carries out preliminary enquiries, including checking to see if the case is already open or known to child protection services, clarifies the nature of the concern, contacts key professionals, e.g. public health nurses or teachers, and records the details of the child and family. In some cases the threshold for a child protection assessment or response is not met but a child has an unmet identified need. Tusla provides a continuum of care supports and interventions for 'at risk' children and their families, including early intervention and prevention services, family supports services and community based services such as Meitheal. It is commonly found that when family supports are provided, the situation improves.
While the child's safety and welfare are the primary concern, removing a child from their home can be a traumatic and stressful experience. Social workers must at all times draw on their professional judgement and undertake a risk assessment to balance the safety of a child with the potential loss and trauma that may be caused by removing them from the family home.
230. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the recent statement by the chief executive of Tusla that supervision orders are not being used due to the fact the legislation is inadequate and does not give social workers sufficient powers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52491/17]
The spirit and philosophy underpinning the Child Care Act 1991 is that, where possible, families and children should be supported to enable the child be brought up within their family. A Supervision Order is a tool utilised to protect the welfare of a child without removing the child from the family home. It is less intrusive and in keeping with the constitutional imperative of minimalist intervention by the State in the life of the child within the family unit.
The criteria for the granting of a Supervision Order are less stringent than a Care Order. Section 19(1) of the Child Care Act 1991 requires only that the court be satisfied that there are reasonable groundsrather than establishing a prima facie case of harm.
Under a Supervision Order the parent retains exclusive parental authority. The Supervision Order allows the social worker to see the child in the home, however there is no authority to direct a parent to undertake parenting or other courses. In the event of present or imminent risk to the child, Tusla does not have the power under the Supervision Order to remove the child from the home. I understand that as part of the review of the Child Care Act 1991 Tusla will look for greater powers to be provided so that greater use can be made of Supervision Orders rather than Care Orders.