Sunday, November 29, 2009

‘HSE no power to protect children’

HEALTH authorities have inadequate powers to protect children in danger of being sexually abused outside of the family, the Murphy report on clerical child sex abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese has claimed.

There was a need for clear statutory powers for health officials so there was no doubt about their ability to intervene in child protection issues, the report found.

The law also needed to be changed so there was a duty on Health Service Executive (HSE) officials to notify groups such as schools and sports clubs about a possible child abuser, the Murphy commission concluded.

The abuse report claimed health boards and the HSE were not properly recording cases of clerical child sexual abuse.

In a review of Irish laws on child protection issues, the Murphy report noted that previous legislation was inadequate in protecting children’s welfare.

Very few complaints of clerical sexual abuse were initially made to health authorities.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Government was well aware of problems within the law, it added.

The delay in devising new legislation until 1996 was "extraordinary", it noted, adding that no significant changes even then were made.

But even today the law was not powerful enough: "In the commission’s view, the law as it stands at present does not provide adequate powers to the health authorities to promote the welfare of children who are abused, or in danger of being abused, by people outside the family and, in particular, by people who have privileged access to children."

While health boards had responsibility for placing children there, the system of social workers was totally inadequate, the report found.

In 1974, there were just three social workers employed in community services for the Eastern Health Board area.

But today, attempts to stop abuse were being still hampered by the fact there is no onus on authorities to record details of alleged abusers.

The report added: "There is no point in recording alleged abuse by a person who is in a public position, for example, a priest, a teacher, sports coach, by the name of the abused person."

The commission said at one stage it had to issue an order for discovery with the HSE over access to files.

The HSE had told it there were 114,000 social work files covering the period of investigation.

It would take a day to read each file, the HSE said. This equated to 10 years to look at every file, the commission had noted.

The HSE though defended its co-operation with the Murphy commission.

Difficulty had arose collecting data, it said: "The HSE collates child protection data per child while the Commission requested data on alleged perpetrators."

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