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Ignored, abandoned, deprived of food: Abuse suffered by Irish kids before they go into care

The most common form of abuse is neglect and some children suffer horrific physical and sexual abuse before the State is called on to intervene.

Image: child image via Shutterstock

THERE ARE MORE than 6,000 children in care in Ireland right now.

According to the most recent figures from Ireland’s Child and Family Agency Tusla, over 14,000 referrals were made to them to the end of the third quarter of last year because of alleged abuse of a child, making abuse the most common reason a child is referred to them.

Figures given by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly, in an answer to a parliamentary question say that at the close of 2014, there were 6,463 children in care.

Unreasonable discipline, deprivation and neglect

Abuse under Tusla’s definition includes emotional, physical and sexual abuse as well as neglect.

According to the agency, it can mean a child is being deprived of food or supervision, that they are subject to unreasonable levels of discipline, that they are threatened, pinched, bitten or suffocated, or that a person in their home is touching them sexually.

Though 14,112 referrals were made to the end of the third quarter of 2014 because of abuse, this does not mean that exact number of children was reported to have been abused, as several referrals may be for the same child.

According to Head of Advocacy for Barnardos, June Tinsley, neglect is by far the most common form ofabuse experienced by children before they are taken into the care of the State.

“That’s been the case for a number of years. To be fair, neglect is a hard thing to measure and capture but the impact on the child can be as harrowing if not more so than other forms of abuse,” she said.

“It affects them a huge amount”

Tinsley said neglect leaves a “huge footprint on a child” and issues they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“It affects them a huge amount – their emotional development, their self-esteem and self-confidence, their attachments to their caregiver and we know then when attachments are fractured and broken, it’s very damaging to the child and to all relationships in their life.

Through its services, she said the charity has seen a number of cases of children who have experienced sustained abuse, over a long period of time and sometimes from a very young age.

“It does affect every aspect of their life,” she explained.

Foster care

More than 92% of children who have been taken into care are in a foster family setting, either with relatives or general foster carers. Data from recent years indicate the number of children entering care has been decreasing, though the number leaving care has fallen.

Tinsley said one of the main problems at the moment is that Tusla is “underfunded” meaning many children are taken into care without having  a social worker assigned to them or without up-to-date care plans.

A recent report by HIQA found some children at a child protection service in Cork had been waiting four years for a social worker and the latest figures provided by Minister for Children James Reilly indicated 515 children in care are without a dedicated social worker. According to this data, there were 654 at the time who did not have a current care plan.

This can have a hugely detrimental effect on children who have been victims of abuse, as they are in dire need of these supports to offer them some kind of structure in their new lives, Tinsley said.

“If  a child has to be placed in care, that’s a huge upheaval – it is essential that stability and consistence given to them. That’s the key to a successful placement. We know of children who have been moved a number of times, whether in foster or residential care, and the child doesn’t understand because they’re not informed.

“It means they’re not trusting of the system, they’re totally confused and as a result their own behaviour deteriorates and they end up in special care. All of that could be prevented.”

Read: Teens in State-run home were leaving regularly to take drugs>

Read: The High Court has ordered 17 children be detained in special care units>

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