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Beaten, neglected, left home alone - The report 'every parent in the country needs to read'

A shocking report published yesterday highlights cases of abuse and neglect of children in this country – and the State’s efforts to protect them.

Image: child image via Shutterstock

“EVERY PARENT IN the country should read Chapter 3, because it will shock you beyond belief”.

This recommendation came from Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon yesterday when he spoke about his report on garda powers allowing them to remove children from the care of their guardians.

Section 12 of the Child Care Act of 1991 enables members of the force to take a child into their care if they believe their safety or welfare are at risk in their current situation.

Speaking yesterday, Shannon said he and his team had found the cases they reviewed profoundly shocking and deeply distressing. He said they had seen “the shattered lives of many children” and they had been deeply moved by their plight.

He made particular reference to issues around alcohol and drug abuse by parents. “The trauma inflicted on children by their parents is staggering,” he said.

In some of the cases, he said children had been “treated like human trash”.

He urged every parent in the country to read the third chapter of the report, which he said shines a light on a part of Ireland that many of us know nothing about. It gives details of 91 harrowing cases in which section 12 of the act was invoked. Here is a selection from the report, but you can read the report in full on the garda website.

Welts on his back

A child presented himself to a garda station stating he had been beaten by older siblings and his mother. The Pulse entry notes he was “scared to go home” He received medical attention which found “evidence of being hit by a belt on his back with some cuts, bruises and welts on his back”.

Foster care was arranged for the child and gardaí attended the home in question to assess whether other siblings were also at risk.

Handprints on body

Creche staff notified social workers of their concern when they noticed a three-year-old child with “bruises and handprints on body”, according to garda records. Medical advice confirmed the likelihood of physical violence and section 12 was invoked on the request of social workers.

Later entries on Pulse appear to show the child was returned to its family three days later after a case conference was held.

A bloody school uniform

A child went to school and reported he had been whipped with a stick at home and had marks as a result. Tusla were called by the school and gardaí attended the scene with social workers. Children were noted to be “in fear” and gardaí were informed the parents “regularly beat the kids”.

The Pulse entry notes:

“There was a bloody school uniform and blood on the floor and kids state this was caused by mother hitting daughter. Kids had not been fed since this morning.”

Other violent cases included:

  • A child whose father hit him with a bedside locker.
  • A girl whose mother grabbed her by the ponytail and “punched her six times in the head” in front of younger siblings.
  • A newborn baby shaken by its father in hospital.

Registered sex offenders

In one case, gardaí discovered the boyfriend of a child’s mother and another person living in the same house were both registered sex offenders.

Suspicion had been aroused when gardaí saw the child with two women in a public place at 1.40am and a man in their company walked away when approached by gardaí.

The child was removed from the house by officers.

Locked out

Gardaí received a call that a young child had been locked out of her home and was crying. When they arrived, she was in her home with her mother and officers spoke to the woman. While they were talking to her, the child tried to ask her mother a question from a book she had.

Records stated:

Each time the child approached, the mother pushed the child away more forcibly each time. The child had a cut and a bruise under the left eye. When the baby in the house started crying uncontrollably, young child appeared frightened. Mother’s social worker contacted.

A social worker said they would “link in” with the mother the following day, but gardaí were unhappy with this and section 12 was invoked. Contact was made with a foster care provider.

Found behind a curtain

The HSE called gardaí after a child awaiting an x-ray in hospital was removed by her brother, who had previously admitted assaulting the child. Gardaí went to the brother’s apartment and found the child behind a curtain in the living room. The Pulse record notes the living room was “her bedroom where she sleeps on the floor.”

The little girl was in a distressed state and her brother was agitated and aggressive towards gardaí. He initially denied the girl was in the flat. The child was removed under section 12 and placed into the care of social workers and taken to secure accomodation. The Pulse record states an emergency care order would be sought byTusla.

It emerged from further incidents on Pulse that the child was subsequently returned to the care of her brother.

Running around with a soiled nappy

Following a 999 call from an anonymous caller expressing concern about a child, gardaí attended the scene. After knocking for several minutes, they were invited in by a man who opened the door. According to the Pulse record:

The apartment was littered with rubbish, there were soiled nappies all over the floor, excrement on the floor, broken furniture everywhere, no bedding on the beds. The child was running round in a soiled nappy with dried excrement on her clothes. The child is almost four-years-of-age, but is unable to speak.

The man in the apartment was agitated and complained of a sore hand. He admitted sustaining the injury when he punched a wall in the apartment a couple of days previous.

A child crying inside

Gardaí were called to a disturbance at a house where they “observed a male on the balcony covered in blood”.

He refused to answer door and gardaí could hear a child crying inside apartment. They forced the door open. There was “blood and broken glass all over the apartment”. Two men in the apartment had been fighting with broken bottles. Two children inside the apartment were described as “dirty and appeared neglected”.

Gardaí noted on the Pulse system that they felt this was an unsafe environment and the children were removed.

Dragging baby across wet ground

Gardaí received a call about a drunk woman slapping her child at a fast food restaurant. When they arrived there was a strong smell of alcohol from the woman and she was “clearly intoxicated”. She was abusive and threatening towards gardaí.

The Pulse entry notes:

Staff and witnesses at location informed gardaí female was slapping child hard, dragging baby/child across wet ground, throwing baby into the air in a care free manner causing concern. Baby had no food, baby was sucking on chips (baby only eight months to nine months old) Female indicated she felt suicidal and was on medication for same.

The mother and baby were taken back to the station. In the station the baby was taken out of its buggy and it was discovered that it had no nappy or undergarments on. The baby was “saturated from self urination and from pouring rain”. The child also appeared malnourished. One of the gardaí provided food and nappies from a local shop and called Tusla.

Syringes in the bedroom

Gardaí attended a house where two children were living. They observed a number of syringes lying in the bedroom of the house. The toilet in the bathroom was blocked and there were flies all around the house.

There were no clothes on the children’s beds and no heating in the house. It was winter.

An open fire

Gardaí were called to a house following reports of a domestic dispute. Both parents were found to be highly intoxicated and a four-year-old child was on a mattress on the sitting room floor in front of an open fire.

The parents threatened to kill each other in front of gardaí. The Pulse entry notes the mother later attempted an overdose.

Neglect

A number of case studies in today’s report refer to circumstances in which children were left alone for periods of time, sometimes overnight.

  • A postman found a one-year-old child wandering unaccompanied in a housing estate. The child had gone out onto the main road. When gardaí found the child’s mother, she was in an intoxicated state.
  • Following an anonymous tip, gardaí found children aged two and six-years-old unsupervised watching television, while their mother was out drinking for the night.
  • Gardaí discovered a seven-month-old child who had been left alone at home while her mother went out at night.
  • Three children aged five, two and less than a year old were reported to be wandering in an area unsupervised. They were almost hit by a bus and a taxi crossing the street. The eldest led them to a hotel where staff alerted gardaí.
  • Security staff at a shopping centre found a seven-month-old child unattended in a buggy and tried to locate the child’s guardian. Gardaí eventually took the child and over an hour after the baby was first noticed by security staff, the mother contacted the station. Pulse records note the infant was left in the care of its mother.
  • A seven-year-old child was wandering a housing estate at 2am. Gardaí went with the child to their home, but the front and back doors were both locked and no one was home. The mother was found in a local nightclub, “highly intoxicated”.
  • Gardaí were told by a neighbour that a five-year-old boy was home alone. They gained entry through an unlocked garage door and found no adults were home. Front and back doors were locked and the boy was found locked in an upstairs bedroom with the key on the outside. Subsequent Pulse entries note the child was reunited with his mother the following day as a Tusla did not “suspect immediate risk to the child’s safety”.

Threatening suicide

In some cases parents or care homes seek the removal of a child whose behaviour is aggressive, dangerous or difficult to manage. In others, the child is deemed to be a danger to themselves.

One child threatened gardaí with a broken chair when they were called to a care home by staff. In another case, a child threw a rock through the window of his mother’s house and threatened her and her partner.

A child who had gone missing from a care home was found in a public playground where she was threatening to take her own life. The child had a history of “self-harm, suffocation and stabbing herself”.

There are a number of examples of children who threatened suicide. In two of the cases in the report, they contacted Childline to say they wished to end their lives and gardaí attended their homes.

One girl told her GP she was suicidal and she was found by gardaí in a distressed state. Her father was intoxicated and her mother refused to have her stay with her. Three days later the girl discharged herself from hospital and was found wandering on a public road.

In one case a child threatened to throw herself into a river. She was refused involuntary admission to hospital due to intoxication with drugs and alcohol. The child’s foster mother also refused the return of the child “for fear of her safety overnight”.

Failures

The report assessed the response to these cases and found systematic failures, particularly in relation to cooperation between agencies.

However, it noted the compassion shown by rank-and-file members of An Garda Síochána towards these children, stating some stayed long beyond their rostered working hours to organise the care of a child.

Shannon has made a number of recommendations which gardaí have committed to implementing, including the provision of specific child protection training for members of the force.

Read: ‘Children are treated like human trash’: The systematic failings in Ireland’s child protection system>

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