NIASW welcomes vindication of good social work practice

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) has welcomed the conclusion of an investigation into the handling of a high profile child abuse case as a vindication of the excellent work carried out in the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) by social work professionals.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) found that staff working for the Trust acted appropriately when working with three brothers in the McDermott family in County Fermanagh, each of whom had been found guilty at hearings in June 2009 of abusing children in their family. A fourth bother committed suicide during his trial the previous month.

The cases sparked anger among local residents when two of the three brothers, James McDermott and Owen McDermott, were given Custody Prevention Orders  but allowed to return to the family home. Neither were deemed fit to plead at a Crown Court hearing in October 2009 but were sentenced following a trial of the facts. The abused children were no longer at the residence but public concerns over the proximity of the men’s home to schools and playgrounds led RQIA to investigate the way it had been handled by the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

The 69 page report, however, found that child protection professionals working for WHSCT acted properly. The RQIA report stated: ‘With regard to child protection, RQIA found that the WHSCT had acted within the legislative framework governing child protection. In recognition of the distress caused to those associated with the case, the Gateway team discharged its statutory responsibilities around child protection in a sensitive and empathetic manner.’

Commenting on the RQIA verdict NIASW chair Lesley McDowell said: “This report offers welcome vindication of the professionalism and dedication of social workers in the Western Health and Social Care Trust who did everything they should have done to safeguard the welfare of the children involved, while also observing the law in their treatment of the offenders in this case.

“NIASW hopes this case shines a light on the incredibly complex decisions that social workers are required to make in their work and emphasises that although there will, sadly, always be tragedies, social workers are constantly doing their best to keep children, young people and vulnerable adults safe from harm.”