Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Children in Donegal 10 times more likely to end up in care

Children in Donegal are being put into state care at more than 10 times the rate of other parts of the Republic of Ireland, new figures suggest.

The significant countrywide difference in childcare orders granted for neglect and abuse has emerged under a new project designed to remove the 'cloak of secrecy' from the state system.

It unveils the circumstances surrounding 30 child-care cases for the first time -- as under current laws such cases are held behind closed doors -- depicting families ravaged by alcohol abuse, drug dependency and mental health issues.

The new website -- www.childlawproject.ie -- was set up to lift the lid on how child abuse and neglect cases are dealt with in the courts.

The reports tell of a baby placed in a wheelie bin, another young boy covered in unexplained bruises and a young girl dragged across a room by her hair and locked in an apartment alone.

The Irish government's child protection expert Geoffrey Shannon said it gave an insight into society's failure to properly address the alcohol problem and also the level of mental health issues emerging.

The figures, unveiled as part of the Child Care Law Reporting Project, show massive variations in the breakdown of childcare orders granted for neglect and abuse by district court judges around the country.

Records reveal 225 cases of children in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, 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, released by the Republci's Courts Service to the project -- the latest available and never before published -- include interim care orders, care orders and supervision orders.

"I would be concerned," Mr Shannon said. "I think it is important there is a uniform application of the Child Care Act throughout the country. It leads to a sort of geographical injustice for a child."

Carol Coulter, director of the project, said she couldn't yet say why there was such huge differences.

"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," she said.

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 two-fifths of cases were in Dublin, with the next busiest courts in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Letterkenny.

The Republic's Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the project marks a turning point in bringing more openness to how such cases are treated in the courts.

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