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Maternity hospital treated 17 newborns for drug withdrawal last year

Irish Examiner logo Irish Examiner 28/10/2022 Cormac O'Keeffe Security Correspondent
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There was a 17% increase in child protection cases in one of the country’s busiest maternity hospitals last year.

Drug use, domestic violence, and child welfare were the main reasons requiring the intervention of hospital social workers and Tusla.

Dublin's Rotunda Hospital said there were 60 deliveries to women who were abusing drugs in 2021, up from 56 in both 2020 and 2019.

Five of the babies were taken into care on foot of a court order, four babies were voluntarily handed over, while, in seven cases, the mothers and babies returned home under the supervision of a drug-free relative.

Of the 60 deliveries, 17 of the babies were taken to the neonatal unit as they were in withdrawal from drugs they were exposed to in the womb.

The Rotunda Hospital 2021 annual report also said that while the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to have a significant impact on the reporting of sexual assaults, they expected numbers attending the hospital’s Sexual Assault Treatment Service to return, or even surpass, pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

It said the medical social work team dealt with 178 child protection cases last year, a 17% increase on 2020, when there were 152 cases, with 153 in 2019.

A breakdown detailed the reasons for the cases:

  • Drug use – 64 (compared to 60 in 2020 and 46 in 2019);
  • Domestic violence – 37 (30 in 2020 and 38 in 2019);
  • Child welfare – 25 (29 in 2020, 23 in 2019);
  • Underage pregnancy – 22 (compared to 15 in 2020 and 14 in 2019);
  • Mental Health – 9 (1 in 2020; 8 in 2019);
  • Previous children in care – 9 (6 in 2020, 6 in 2019);
  • Child neglect – 4 (2 in 2020, 6 in 2019);
  • Alcohol misuse – 3 (3 in 2020, 8 in 2019).

'Increased prevalence of domestic violence'

The report said one of the many consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic was the “increased prevalence of domestic violence”. It said pregnant women were “particularly vulnerable”, with research indicating that violence “often escalates” further during pregnancy.

It said the majority of child protection cases are “complex” and involve hospital social workers working with parents, other staff, Tusla and other agencies.

“When parents are experiencing difficulties, every support is explored to help them take care of their baby,” the report said. “Only in exceptional cases are children separated from their parents after all alternative means of protecting them have been exhausted.” 

Of the 48 women referred to Tusla, there were 34 discharge safety planning meetings and 24 child protection case conferences.

Of these:

  • five babies were placed in foster care under an interim care order;
  • four babies were placed in foster care under a voluntary care order;
  • four babies were placed in care under a private family care placement;
  • seven mothers returned home under the supervision of a non-drug using relative or agency for a period;
  • five mothers were admitted to a mother and baby unit/parent assessment unit arranged by Tusla.

In relation to the 17 babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit for drug withdrawal, the report said: “The medical social worker balances the often conflicting interests of parents struggling with addiction, a busy neonatal unit, requests from Tusla and instructions from the Courts to ensure that each baby is safely discharged.” 

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