Paramilitaries and poverty are contributing to the seemingly inexorable rise in the number of children needing social care in Derry, a meeting of the Western Health and Social Care Trust Board has heard.
Mr. Kieran Downey, the Trust’s Director of Social Work, branded armed gangs who have left some children in need of social care services locally, as ‘child abusers’.
Universal Credit (UC) - the controversial new catch-all benefit that is being rolled-out in Derry this month - meanwhile, is already having an impact on social work case loads in the North West, he said.
Mr. Downey told members of the WHSCT Board on Thursday that the steady rise in demand for services over the past decade continued last year.
Between April 1, 2017 and September 30, 2017, for example, there was an 18 per cent increase in unallocated cases within the Trust’s Family Intervention Serivce (FIS), while 45 children were added to the child protection register in the Western Trust during the same period.
In the longer term there has been a thirty per cent increase in the number of ‘looked after children’ in Kinship Care since 2015. That’s children being looked after by grannies and grandas who nonetheless must remain on the Trust’s lists adding to case loads.
Equally, the number of children on the child protection register rose from 266 in September 2012 to 421 in September 2017, while the number of ‘looked after children’ was up to 610 from a figure of 400 on March 31, 2011.
Mr. Downey said “high levels of poverty” were partly to blame and revealed social workers were “beginning to see some of the impact of Universal Credit” which went live in Limavady a few months ago and goes live in Derry this month. Neglect is now oustripping physical abuse as the foremost reason for referrals in Derry, he said, pointing to the fact that in some wards 42 per cent of children are poor. However, he pointed to the fact that the effects of one particular form of physical abuse - paramilitarism - are disproportionately felt in Derry.
“A lot of young people we are supporting have been threatened by paramilitary groups. This is something that’s totally unacceptable. It’s child abuse,” he said.