The Government has been accused of lacking the political will to tackle child sexual abuse in Ireland amid a fresh round of reports showing appaling failures.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week, John Byrne, a psychotherapist and lecturer in Child and Social Care Practice at Waterford IT, bemoaned the Government’s spending on the Seanad referendum at a time when services for vulnerable children are “woefully inadequate”.
“The Government showed its priorities in spending €14 million on the referendum when we don’t have a single, unified therapeutic response to young people who are victims of sexual abuse,” Byrne said.
“There is no political will on the issue of child protection,” he said, adding “the catchphrase of their campaign on the Children’s Rights Referendum, ‘Every Child Matters’ is just empty rhetoric.”
Byrne was speaking in a week when the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) issued a damning report on a Monaghan-based child support unit run by the Health Service Executive (HSE) which found that children’s safety deteriorated once they entered the unit and included incidences of bullying and self-harm. The HIQA report asserts that managers both at local and national level have failed to respond to the risks posed to children in the home.
Also this week, Emily Logan, the Ombudsman for Children revealed a litany of failings by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the case of a child who had alleged sexual abuse, yet, despite contact with the HSE, only received therapeutic care when her mother arranged it privately. Meanwhile, RTÉ’s Drivetime programme revealed details of another case of abuse which the HSE decided not to pursue despite a stated willingness by the Director of Public Prosecution to bring charges against the child’s abuser, her father. In this particular case, it is alleged that the HSE viewed the mother as a problem and ordered visitation rights for the father, against Garda advice and physical evidence suggesting serious sexual abuse.
The fresh cases emerged a week after The Irish Catholic reported on accusations levelled by CARI, the only dedicated voluntary group for at-risk children in Ireland – that the State is failing such children. CARI itself has suffered cutbacks due to ongoing Irish austerity and was forced to close its therapy service in Cork. It is now attempting to deal with an increase in waiting times for children seeking its services as a result.
Clearly angry at the current state of affairs, John Byrne said: “We have a right-wing Government with no interest in human welfare.”
Professor Helen Buckley, of the School of Social Work & Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin said that “the real issue” in terms of child protection is being missed by Government, which she believes, has the will to act, but is missing “that data” which would guide its response.
“Energies are being misdirected,” Prof. Buckley argued, disagreeing with Byrne’s contention that there is a lack of will on child protection. Prof. Buckley, however, agreed that funding of necessary services is the key issue.
“What is needed is less of a focus on legislation and more on funding services which the evidence shows are required,” Prof. Buckley told this newspaper. Pointing to reports compiled by such groups as CARI and One in Four, she said that these documents “show that services are in crisis”.