Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Child care orders figures revealed

Project director Dr Carol Coulter hopes to find out why there are such huge regional differences in use of the care system over the next five years

Children in Donegal are being put into state care at more than 10 times the rate of other parts of the country, figures have suggested.

A breakdown of child care orders granted for neglect and abuse by district court judges around the country shows massive variations.

Records reveal 225 cases of children in Letterkenny, for example, being handed over to the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2011. This compares to one in Mullingar for the same year, eight in Killarney, 10 in Athlone, 21 in Castlebar and 23 in Carlow - roughly similar sized towns.

The figures, the latest available and never before published, include interim care orders, care orders and supervision orders. They were released by the Courts Service to the Child Care Law Reporting Project, which has launched a new website detailing child care cases that come before the courts.

Carol Coulter, director of the project, said she could not yet say why there was such huge differences nationwide but would hope to find out over the next five years.

She said: "I noticed there is a lot of variation geographically. I will be looking to see why there seems to be far more orders in some places than others. Is it because they are being sought? Is it because there is more voluntary care in some parts of the country? We just don't know."

In total there were 7,928 applications made to district courts to put children into state care during 2011. Some 7,410 were granted. Around four in 10 cases were in Dublin, with the next busiest courts in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Letterkenny.

But Ms Coulter warned the statistics should be treated with caution as they reflect applications rather than children, and there may be multiple applications for the same child. Repeat or renewed applications for certain types of care orders which relate to the same case may also skew the figures.

The new website was set up - with funding from Atlantic Philanthropies, the One Foundation and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs - to lift the lid on how child abuse and neglect cases are dealt with in the courts.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: "It will show the dark side of abuse and neglect, the reality of 1,500 cases confirmed every year of child abuse and neglect. So it will shed a new light on how our courts deal with these issues and the huge challenges these problems throw up for our courts and indeed in the first instance for Irish children."

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