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Child Abuse and Child Protection in Ireland

Explore the critical issues relating to current practice in child protection. Describe reporting procedures and include a discussion on issues related to interagency working and risk assessment.

Child abuse and neglect is a global problem with serious lifelong consequences for the affected child and their family members. Child maltreatment has been experienced by people in many forms such as sexual abuse, negligence, exploitation, physical abuse and emotional ill treatment. WHO report has revealed that about 1in every 5 women and 1 in every 13 men have been sexually abuse as a child. One-fourth of all adults have been victim of physical abuse as a child (World Health Organization 2018). These figures give indication of the extent to which children are vulnerable in the community. Maltreated children are at increased risk of behavioral, physical and mental health problems too. For this reason, many child protection policies and child abuse prevention programs has come in different countries. Child abuse prevention programs operate in different settings to make people aware of different signs of child abuse and the take relevant action to protect children. Large number of resource has been directed to address the problem of social abuse (Eckenrode et al. 2017). This report particularly aims to explore critical issues affecting practices in child protection. In addition to reporting procedure for child abuse in Ireland, the report discusses about the issues faced by inter-agencies while conducting risk assessment.

Child abuse and child protection has become a significant political and social agenda in Ireland due to great publicity of high profile cases. High disclosure of child abuse by families, clergy and other person has brought attention to the serious problem of child abuse in Ireland. The revelations related to child abuse cases also increased after the implementation of the Protections For Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, 1998. The Act provided civil protection to persons reporting about child abuse and they were provided protection from penalization by employers (Protections For Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 2018). In the presence of Children First legislation, local authorities have introduced many assessment frameworks and tools to assess needs of vulnerable children in Ireland. The main purpose of assessment tool is to conduct general assessment with vulnerable families, assess specifics risk and needs, determine eligibility for certain interventions and analyze level of support needed by children at different stage of life (Luckock, Barlow and Brown 2017). However, the risk assessment process and identification of vulnerable children is a challenging process because of many issues in the child protection system in Ireland.

Challenges Faced by Social Work Professionals in Child Protection


The issue of child maltreatment has had major impact on law enforcement and judicial system of countries. Based on laws related to child protections, judicial systems of different countries have incurred huge cost for investigation, prosecution and confinement of perpetrators of abuse. The possibility of collaboration with different multi-professional team has also increased to provide ideal support needed by maltreated children and their family members. However, the complexity related to the reasoning process is one of the major issues in child protection practices. For instance, in health care setting, the assessment of suspected children with child abuse has become a dilemma for clinicians because of their biased view and attitudes. Hence, such beliefs and attitudes result in diagnostic uncertainty leading to circumspection and indecision. This may delay quick response process (White et al. 2015). Based on the identification of this issue in child protection practices, it can be said that identification of children at risk and sharing knowledge at the right time is a complex system and behavior of professionals and agencies can be a source of safety and risk too.

The child welfare system in Ireland is guided by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA)  and the International Human Rights. The United Convention on the Rights of the Child and The Hague Convention on Adoption gives ideal framework for practices related to child’s right. DCYA  develops many range of policy and service activity for children in Ireland. In addition, Tusla is the Child and Family Agency that fulfills the provision of the Child Care Act, 1991 by providing family support and protection to children (Department of Children and Youth Affairs 2018). The exploration of challenges faced by Ireland in maintaining good protection system despite presence of relevant framework has revealed that social workers within Tusla face challenges in implementing welfare practices because of poor skills and ethos requires for child protections practice. Staffs providing family support should be highly proficient at identify and managing risk of abuse and without those skills, major disruptions in reporting and treatment process arises (White et al. 2015). Hence, without adequate training given to social workers regarding integrating family support approach in child protection, the goal of child welfare cannot be achieved. The future challenges that lies in the presence of above issue is that pre-service and in-service training needs to be modified by identifying new skills needed by social workers. Restricting learning only to in-service training may not help, shared learning related to family support and child protection across the board is needed too.

Faulty Child Abuse Reporting Procedures


The manner in which social work and child protection is perceived by social work professionals also has an impact on child protection practices. For successfully addressing child abuse, there is a need to proactively support parents or families to protect right of children. Working with families and parents are crucial for social workers. However, evidence has shown that proper link between social work professionals and parent is a challenging process when parents experience adverse social conditions. The cognitive framework and culture of social workers in contrast to the adverse social condition of parents acts as barrier in taking synergic approach to child protection and supporting families (Fargion 2014). In child protection system, the main priority is to prevent children from any harm and reduce risk within and outside the work (Wilkins and Whittaker 2017). However, the limitation found in current child protection practice is that social workers focus mainly in children and ignore the needs and circumstances of parent. It is true that child protection services are mainly concerned with assessing risk in children, however they fail to recognize that assessing family strength and resource may also help in designing appropriate intervention for children. Based on the above discussion, it can be said that social work practitioner’s poor relationship with parents is one of the flaws in current practice that limits effective work in the area of child protection.

The main ethos of child welfare is to provide resource and conditions so that children get all the opportunity to reach their full human potential. To become successful in the endeavor to protect children and provide them equal rights, it is necessary not just to focus on difficulties and issues, but also to look for resources and strength in family. Hence, to address the critical issues of faulty procedure and poor skills of social workers in child protection practices, there is a need to  give professional autonomy to staffs so that they can spend more time and energy on clients. This will support professionals in implementing flexible interventions for vulnerable children and families (Featherstone et al., 2014). Therefore, reform is needed regarding the new way of professionalism so that social workers can proceed in a reflective way. Such approach will help professionals to balance power imbalance and tackle different disadvantage in the life of families that increases the vulnerability for children (Fargion 2014).

The Child abuse reporting procedure is mainly concerned with giving proper guidance to people to help them identify whether child abuse has occurred or not and learn the way to make complain of child abuse with local law enforcement. According to child abuse reporting procedures, child abuse may occur in the form of physical injury or sexual exploitation. Physical injury is related to injury to a child by another person for other reasons apart from accidental means, whereas sexual abuse is related to negligent treatment endangering the health and emotional stability of a child (Beker and Robin 2014). If any people in Ireland suspects that a child has been abused or is at risk of abuse, then they have the duty to report about suspicion to Tusla. The complaints can be raised either by phone or by writing. People who are concerned about their safety can  also report anonymously. Besides this, the law of Ireland also provided protection to people reporting about abuse so that such incidents are not ignored and prompt action can be taken for perpetrators of abuse. Apart from people in the community, different organizations also have the responsibility to assign certain people to deal with suspected and actual abuse (Department of Children and Youth Affairs 2018). This may help to keep children safe in schools and other institution too.

Inter-Agency Cooperation

As per the directives of the Government of Ireland and the National Children’s Strategy, cooperation between interagency is vital to meet the goals and objectives of child protection. It involves proper cooperation between government departments, NGOs and state agencies to appropriately conduct risk assessment and initiate the process for child protection. Other inter-agency arrangements that has emerged with time includes establishment of new organizations locally and development of area based approach for child welfare and well-being. The review of the performance of inter-agency arrangement has revealed several issues such as professional difference and conflict between social workers and general practitioners, lack of shared responsibility, inconsistent support and lack of formal linkage dye to power imbalance and lack of mandates for cooperation in inter-agency works (Duggan, Corrigan and Social 2009). Such kind of difference may hamper the purpose of inter-agency arrangement and create challenges in risk assessment of clients too. Hence, to provide benefits to children and families, there is a need to strengthen method that facilitates proper collaboration between inter-agencies.


The process of risk assessment in a child protection system related to the systematic process of collecting information on conditions of family and observable threats to safety of a child and determining the degree of risk for patient. Child welfare agencies use reliable risk assessment tools to assess current and future harm to a child. However, the challenges in risk assessment and treatment arise when cooperation between agencies does not exist and vital information related to incidence of child abuse is not shared to interlinked agencies involved in child protection. One research evidence has also revealed that instead of being involved in child protection, many presence of issues in interagency work is itself leaving children in unsafe situations (Coates 2017). As interagency collaboration is central to the protection of vulnerable group, there is a need to identify barriers that limit collaboration and find strategies to promote collaboration and increase the pace of response for maltreated children.

There might be several barriers to effective collaboration in interagency work. These includes inefficiency of staffs in information sharing, conflict between principles underpinning practice for clinicians and child protection worker, lack of clarity regarding processes and expectation and inconsistent style of collaboration (Afzelius et al. 2018). In relations to the identified issue in interagency work for child protection is Ireland, it is recommended to pay more emphasis on improving the process related to information sharing and responding to messages as received by different agencies (Haskett, Tisdale and Clay 2017). One common argument related to interagency collaboration is that such developmental process may require lot of time, however the time issue can be managed if all collaborating partners are brought on board early in the process of change. In addition, bringing collaborators together on a regular basis may also help to be aware about the progress for each client and deepen commitment for mutual goals in risk assessment of children. Hence, transformation in the current system of collaboration is needed to facilitate progress for child welfare initiative.

Risk Assessment in Child Protection

Conclusion:

The report gave insight into the global problem of child abuse and the current development in Ireland to protect children from any harm. With respect to existing laws for rights of children and procedures available for protection of children, the report has highlighted about key issues that is challenging current practice in child protection. In case of individual professionals working in Ireland, inappropriate beliefs and poor skills related to interacting with vulnerable families is a concern. Secondly, lack of interagency collaboration is threatening timely information sharing and risk assessment process for children. Based on the issue identified, several directions has been presented that could help to address faulty procedure existing in child protection system of Ireland.

References:

Afzelius, M., Östman, M., Råstam, M. and Priebe, G., 2018. Parents in adult psychiatric care and their children: a call for more interagency collaboration with social services and child and adolescent psychiatry. Nordic journal of psychiatry, 72(1), pp.31-38.

Beker, J. and Robin, M., 2014. Assessing child maltreatment reports: The problem of false allegations. Routledge.

Coates, D., 2017. Working with families with parental mental health and/or drug and alcohol issues where there are child protection concerns: inter?agency collaboration. Child & Family Social Work, 22(S4), pp.1-10.

Department of Children and Youth Affairs 2018. Child Welfare and Protection - What We Do - Department of Children and Youth Affairs - Ireland. Dcya.gov.ie. Retrieved 18 January 2018, from https://www.dcya.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=/documents/Child_Welfare_Protection/intro.htm

Department of Children and Youth Affairs 2018. Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children Retrieved 18 January 2018, from https://www.dcya.gov.ie/documents/Publications/ChildrenFirst.pdf

Devaney, C. and Gregor, C.M., 2017. Child protection and family support practice in Ireland: a contribution to present debates from a historical perspective. Child & Family Social Work, 22(3), pp.1255-1263.

Duggan, C., Corrigan, C. and Social, W.R.C., 2009. A literature review of inter-agency work with a particular focus on children's services. Children Acts Advisory Board.

Eckenrode, J., Campa, M.I., Morris, P.A., Henderson Jr, C.R., Bolger, K.E., Kitzman, H. and Olds, D.L., 2017. The Prevention of Child Maltreatment Through the Nurse Family Partnership Program: Mediating Effects in a Long-Term Follow-Up Study. Child maltreatment, 22(2), pp.92-99.

Fargion, S., 2014. Synergies and tensions in child protection and parent support: Policy lines and practitioners cultures. Child & Family Social Work, 19(1), pp.24-33.

Featherstone, B., Morris, K., White, S. and White, S., 2014. Re-imagining child protection: Towards humane social work with families. Policy Press.

Haskett, M.E., Tisdale, J. and Clay, A.L., 2017. Interagency Collaboration to Promote Mental Health and Development of Children Experiencing Homelessness. In Child and Family Well-Being and Homelessness (pp. 83-99). Springer International Publishing.

Luckock, B., Barlow, J. and Brown, C., 2017. Developing innovative models of practice at the interface between the NHS and child and family social work where children living at home are at risk of abuse and neglect: A scoping review. Child & Family Social Work, 22(S4), pp.62-69.

Protections For Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, 1998.. 2018. Irishstatutebook.ie. Retrieved 18 January 2018, from https://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1998/act/49/enacted/en/html

White, S., Wastell, D., Smith, S., Hall, C., Whitaker, E., Debelle, G., Mannion, R. and Waring, J., 2015. ’Wicked issues’ in safeguarding children. Southampton (UK), from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK274399/

Wilkins, D. and Whittaker, C., 2017. Doing Child-Protection Social Work with Parents: What Are the Barriers in Practice?. The British Journal of Social Work.

World Health Organization. 2018. Child maltreatment. Retrieved 18 January 2018, from https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs150/en/

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