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Nearly a third of children in care cases have special needs

A new report looks at the figures behind child protection proceedings.

Image: Shutterstock/Ditty_about_summer

NEARLY ONE IN three children in care cases have psychological, educational or physical special needs, according to new research.

The study by the Child Care Law Reporting (CCLR) Project found that minors with cognitive disabilities or mental health problems are overrepresented in child protection proceedings.

The report, published today, noted that neglect is the most common problem in care cases before the courts.

Other issues that frequently arise include:

  • Substance abuse (20%)
  • Allegations of physical or emotional abuse (10%)
  • Child abuse claims (4%)

The study also found that a disproportionate number of cases involve families where at least one parent is from an ethnic minority, including the Travelling community, which accounts for nearly one in 20 cases.

A parent with an intellectual disability or mental illness is involved in one in seven cases.

Almost half of cases culminate in the extension of existing orders, either interim care orders or short-term orders, the report said.

Call for dedicated family court

The majority of cases – around 96% – are concluded in less than a day.

However, the CCLRP noted that its team observed “a number of highly contested cases, sometimes involving allegations of child sex abuse, which took several weeks, usually spread over many months with multiple adjournments”.

CCLRP Director Dr Carol Coulter said: “Our findings underline once again the urgent need for a dedicated family court, which would hear both private and public family law, setting aside dedicated days for child care cases.”

She added: “The issue of finding appropriate places for these children arose again and again, and in some instances they were sent to facilities abroad.

“But we also saw cases where children were returning from special units abroad to a situation where there was no appropriate ‘step down’ place for them in this jurisdiction.”

The report covers 1,272 childcare cases from December 2012 to July 2015.

Some 1,194 were before the 26 district courts and 78 were before the High Court.

Read: A quarter of children feel their parents don’t love them enough to keep them safe

Read: In adult hospital wards, children with mental health issues face ‘extreme distress’

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Catherine Healy

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