24-Hour Out-of-Hours Social Work Service

Published date: 
20 Jul 2008



‘The Children’s Rights Alliance echoes the recent concerns of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), who heavily criticised the Health Service Executive (HSE) after a “very vulnerable” 15-year-old boy was reported to have spent a night on a camp bed in a Cork Garda station. Worryingly, this unacceptable incident is only one in a series of similar
occurrences nationally.

We are failing our most vulnerable children and the Government must now take action. When will we have the basics in place? There is something fundamentally wrong with our society when we have 24-hour emergency access to vets, IT support, car breakdown assistance and plumbers, but nobody on the other end of the phone when a vulnerable child requires
emergency accommodation and support.

This case once again points to the urgent need for a national 24 hour out-of-hours social work service. Typically, such crises develop outside office hours and must be dealt with immediately. The Alliance first raised this issue 11 years ago, in 1997, and again in 2006, in both its shadow reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Most recently, we raised the matter with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews TD, as well as his predecessor, the now Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith TD. We call on the HSE, again, to ensure that its social work services meet its statutory obligations to children in accordance with the Child Care Act, 1991.

We support the AGSI’s position that children at risk should not be accommodated in a Garda station, as it is no place for any child, particularly a child who has not committed an offence. The justice and care systems should not be mixed and an alternative safe place must be provided for a child in crisis.

Children in need require the State to operate appropriate systems that work towards their best interests (Article 3 of the UN Convention). This recent incident illustrates that the State is in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1992. When the State assumes the role of parent, it has a duty to provide appropriate care for children outside of their families (Article 20). In this reported case, if the Gardaí were concerned enough to keep the boy overnight and had sought social work assistance, then somebody should have been on the other end of the phone. This case is a sad indictment of Ireland’s treatment of its children.’

Jillian van Turnhout
Chief Executive

Children's Rights Alliance