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Sentenced to Transportation….The Placement of Children Overseas.

November 15, 2011

Last week saw a few headlines on the practice of placing children overseas. This practice speaks volumes about social work in Ireland in a few different ways.

But before I go off on a rant, a few facts. In 2010 there were 15 children placed outside of the state, placed in the following facilities –  Friends Therapeutic Community Trust, Fresh Start, Eden Priory Grove, Southlands, Coxlease, St Lukes Hospital Group, Alderwasley Hall School, Keys Childcare Led, Five Rivers, Quay Foyer, Redbank Treatment Centre, Watling House, Kibble and Jennifer House in the UK; Betterkeys, Camphill Community and Care in Northern Ireland and Boystown, Nebraska, USA.  To place a child overseas comes with a huge amount of paperwork and funding proposals and applications, each placement must be justified in terms of cost and in terms of all domestic options being exhausted.

We are dealing with 15 children here, given that there are around 6000 children in care this is about 0.25% of all children in care. My biggest difficulty with this story is the fact that it got more column inches in the national press than the much more troubling and destructive topic of neglect. This echos the treatment of the subject of special care in Ireland, and the Out Of Hours services which also claim a disproportionate share of coverage. I feel like Vincent Browne in his constant quoting of the numbers of people who die as a result of poverty without any media fuss, but the fact is the biggest risk to children, the biggest reason for children being in care is neglect, which as an issue is…well…neglected.

Putting that aside and looking at these 15 children and the circumstances which led to them being placed overseas highlights the problem of lack of services in this country. Children get placed overseas as the system here has failed to meet their needs. My experience of special care has been that it is a mess. There is a clear bias towards younger females, meaning that difficult older males fall through the cracks and end up in the criminal system or as one of our live exports. Those children who do get into special care will have trouble getting their needs met. Special care units will refuse children for whom they feel there is “no therapeutic rationale”, however special care units have repeatedly told me and my colleagues that they don’t do theraphy…so what the hell do they do? The problems with special care are huge and deserve several posts, but to summarise, it’s a bit of a mess, and our children sentenced to transportation attest to this.

This lack of services can be looked at in a more fundamental way, which ties in with the difficulties outlined above, and apply to domestic special care placements as well. In response to a parliamentary Question on placing children overseas, the Minister for Children recently stated “These children most commonly have severe behaviour difficulties, in some cases as a result of injury or accident or in others due to their childhood experiences.”I can tell you right now what these “childhood experiences” are, a failure by the HSE to meet their needs. The most fundamental issue is a failure to provide anything like decent preventative services or to deal with the damage done to children before they come into contact with social workers, and indeed the damage done by being in care. The neglect of neglect, the failure to support communities and the failure to provide prevention in an area where there is no cure, this, not the difficulties in special care, is the real lack of services.

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