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One could suggest, to have a full understanding of the concept of child care polices within Ireland, we must first look at childcare and its practice from a historical perspective. According to Kelleher, Kelleher & Corbett, (2000) modern social care in Ireland evolved in part from the insufficiency in the running of children’s institutions, schools and other care facilities; with a litany of abuse and atrocities now documented, social policy reformation has been a key component in integrating safe and secure work practice and care. This assignment will seek to define two macro policies in relation to child care within the social care sector, while emphasis will be given on application within Children’s residential units, other care providers for example after school programmes and youth programmes will also be given consideration.
According to Curry (1998) social policy in relation to child care services has been slow to emerge. The developments and new recommendations for policy have been the combination of many forces; public outcry coupled with state intervention resulted in high profile reports being commissioned and published; namely ‘The Kennedy Report’ and the ‘The report of the task for on Child Care Services’. The Kennedy report called for an introduction of a revised and complete children’s act, the subsequent introduction of The Child Care Act 1991 has been described as a ‘watershed in child care policy in Ireland’ (Curry, 1998:171). Among the many provisions within the act, the main emphasis was on the safety and security of the care of children, with particular emphasis placed on children who had been abused, neglected or who were deemed at risk.
While Curry notes the provisions within the Act were slow to be implemented, several high profile abuse cases, The x Case 1992, ‘Kilkenny incest case 1993 and the Kelly Fitzgerald case 1994 prompted the government to respond thereafter with urgency; however it was 1996 before all the provisions within the act would be fully realised. Curry (2003) also notes that following a documentary aired by RTE ‘States of Fear’, which highlighted the systematic abuse imposed on children within Residential and Reformatory schools, in turn forced the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the 9th May 1999, to address the nation to apologise on behalf of the state, to its citizens who had been abused in state institutions as children.
Children First – National Guidelines for the protection and welfare of children (Department of Health & Children, 1999) & Our Duty to Care (Department of Health and Children, 2002)
Curry (1998) notes, as a result of the high profile cases noted above, The Children first guidelines were introduced in 1999, they were intended to support & inform the professional, teacher, community worker or any person who would have regular contact with children through sporting or community organisations, in best practice on reporting and identification of child abuse. These set of guidelines set out ways in which professional practice in both statutory and voluntary agencies and organisations, which offer services for children and families can be improved upon and adhered to, the specific objectives of the guidelines are;
“Improve and focus on identification, reporting, assessment, treatment and management of child abuse and to clarify the responsibilities of various professionals and individuals within organisations” (Children First Summary, 1999:5)
The main ethos of the guidelines is the ‘welfare of the child is paramount, among its aims are to achieve a consolidated and specific identification and reporting functions for all persons concerned in child welfare. As indicated within the guidelines each organisation must have a designated person who is wholly responsible for overseeing the procedures and policies are adapted in house. Special emphasis is given to a holistic approach to welfare of the child, the child, the guidelines state must be considered in the family setting and parent and carers should be respected and consulted as ongoing concerns are addressed. The child ultimately has the right to be heard and must also understand the procedures; so it would be an important function within residential setting for example to have a child friendly policy which the child can understand (dohc: Children First Guidelines, 2010).
According to the Children first summary (1999), any investigations should not cause the child undue distress and investigations should be respectful of the family unit; however the child’s safety is of upmost importance. The criminal aspect of any investigation into child abuse should not and cannot be ignored and where necessary the Garda should be informed as appropriate by the health boards. The guidelines also indicate a compulsory training for personnel or staff, this would seem extremely important and relevant that all prospective and current social care staff should be fully updated and trained in the National Guidelines. Training one could suggest should also incorporate specific ways in which to identify abuse as defined with the guidelines and subsequent avenues for reporting same. It would also be extremely important that a statement, knowledge and understanding of best practise, as indicated in the guidelines should be the expected standard within any residential or child care setting.
Further to the Children’s first guidelines a document entitled Our Duty to Care was produced by the department of Health and Children (2002), this document sets out to detail ways to improve upon child welfare and the development of safe practices when working with children. It is specifically aimed at community and voluntary organisations regardless of size so would be of particular relevance to social care sector. Our Duty to care lists specific principles, which if adopted across the organisation, will create a safe environment where children’s rights, safety and protection are at the forefront; the guidelines are representative of the recommendations within the Children’s first guidelines as noted above.
These guidelines also advices the recruitment of staff and volunteers within the organisation should fall under clearly defined guidelines and be consistent with best practice; for example Garda Vetting forms for prospective staff members working within children. Ongoing and updated training should be provided for all workers within the organisation. The recommendations also advise developing a policy of openness with parents, consulting and advising parents/caregivers at every possible opportunity (dohc: Our Duty to Care, 2010). One could suggest communication in this respect would be extremely important; sitting with parents on a one to one basis if necessary and having clear guidelines or an explanation of what is happening in a format which can be easily understood.
National Standards for Children’s Residential Units – Department of Health & Children
According to the National Standards for Children’s residential Units (2010), the guidelines were produced in conjunction with various agencies and the Social Services Inspectorate. These particular guidelines set out standards which any residential facility both statutory and non-statutory must adhere too.
According to information available through Social Services Inspectorate (2010) over 4,870 Children are within the care system. This also incorporates foster care, with 172 residential centres, 102 in the statutory sector with 74 in the non-statutory sectors. The Social Services Inspectorate is responsible for inspecting said premises under the provisions within the 1991 Child Care Act. Within the National guidelines every health board has responsibility to notify the SSI of new premises being established as residential care facilities. There must be a written statement within each centre/facility which details and describes what the centre does. In effect the ethos and mission statement could incorporate this information. This must be kept up to date and contain relevant information which is clearly visible to all visiting persons. The centre must be effectively managed with suitably qualified staff. Each staff member prior to job placement must be properly vetted by An Garda Siochana. There must also be adequate levels of staff to care and supervise young person’s residing in the facility. Each new staff member must receive an induction into the centre, supervision and support, coupled with training and further development in line with position should also be provided.
Any files pertaining to the child or young person in care should be kept in a safe and secure environment and administrative files should be co-ordinated in line with the Freedom of information Act 1997 (dohc, 2010). The facility/centre is required to have an authorised person to ensure that compliance with all the standards within the National Guidelines are adhered to. This person should not be part of the current management. They should facilitate meetings with the young person’s to enquire about general happiness or care within the centre and ensure young person has an outlet to voice concerns. Any reported incidents should be recorded and the appropriate authorities informed accordingly.
According to the guidelines (2010) a Statutory Care plan is required for each and every child/young person within care centre. This care plan should be facilitated by the assigned social worker, the staff and management within the care centre should be informed of necessary information prior to or shortly after the young person has joined the centre. This differs from the placement plan within care, which is referred to as a ‘placement plan’; this plan may detail day to day specific activities or future goals within the centre.
The guidelines (2010) make reference to the importance of the young person having a voice, the young person should be provided with every opportunity to discuss their care. They along with the family should be informed of any decisions which will affect their future. Parents/guardians should be informed of all decisions and where appropriate be part of the future care plan. If emotional or specialist support is required it is the responsibility of the centre to ensure the child has an adequate inter disciplinary team or available service to alleviate issues.
The guidelines are very clear on the role and involvement of the family while the young person is in residential care. Family visits must be accommodated and indeed encouraged; these should also be facilitated in a private area. Staffs are required to support the visits and contact unless directed otherwise by the courts which will also be indicated within the statutory care plan, this one could suggest firmly establishes the important role of social care worker, facilitating the voice of the young person and encouraging family involvement where appropriate (dohc: National Standards Children’s Residential Centres, 2010).
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