Vulnerable | 

Child hospitalised with ‘worst case of lice ever seen' as fears lockdown is hiding neglect grow

There were recent cases where children had to be hospitalised as a result of severe infection from a head-lice infestation and scabies.
Shane Phelan

Serious neglect of children risks going unnoticed for long periods during school closures and lockdowns.

Details of shocking cases of neglect are today revealed by the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP).

It suggests that some cases of neglect may have been noticed much earlier had schools not been forced to close last year after the arrival of Covid-19 in Ireland.

There were recent cases where children had to be hospitalised as a result of severe infection from a head-lice infestation and scabies.

Other issues caused by the pandemic included reduced access for parents to children in foster care, and restrictions on vital support services for vulnerable parents and children.

The CCLRP was launched in 2013 to provide an insight into child care law cases after the law was changed to allow such matters to be reported on.

In its latest report, published today, it outlines 48 cases from the later part of 2020 when the affect of the pandemic was all-too apparent.

In one case an interim care order was granted in Dublin District Court in respect of two children after one of them, a girl, had to be admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit with a severe infection due to head lice and scabies.

The court heard that the Garda Child Protection Unit went to the child’s family home on foot of a referral and found the house in a state of disarray.

A detective gave evidence that clothing and rubbish were all over the floor, the children’s room contained about two feet of rubbish and clothing, mattresses were soiled with no bedding on them, and there were no hygienic washing facilities.

The mother claimed she was in the process of clearing out the house and filling a skip in the garden and this was why it was in such disarray.

A paediatric consultant gave evidence that when the girl was brought into the clinic she had scabies and the most serious case of head lice he had ever seen.

She had the head lice for about three weeks and the scabies for approximately a week before she was examined.

A social worker gave evidence that she did not think the mother fully understood the circumstances.

She said that assessments would be carried out, that the children would be placed together with a family as soon as possible and that the social work department would do everything they could to facilitate access for the mother.

In a separate case, another school-going girl was also hospitalised with infection due to a head-lice infestation.

The child’s school principal had had concerns about the neglect of this girl and her sister, but when the schools were closed she was unable to maintain contact with them.

She told the court the class teacher had arranged Zoom meetings but unfortunately the child did not participate in any of them.

The class teacher had also invited all children to come to school to meet her and give a present and card to all of the children but this girl did not come.

The teacher called to the house and found that the child’s head had been shaved, which was why she did not want anyone to see her.

The court heard the girl’s younger sister was in hospital due to her having scabies, ringworm and head lice.

CCLRP director Dr Carol Coulter said the neglect cases raised the question as to whether the prolonged closure of schools meant teachers, often the frontline in protecting vulnerable children, were cut off from them and the neglect went unnoticed for far too long.

She said other issues seen by the CCLRP stemming from the pandemic included instances of children in care being deprived of meaningful access to their parents and of reduced or delayed access to essential assessments.

Dr Coulter added there were cases of parents who might otherwise overcome their problems and be reunited with their children being denied the therapy that would allow them do so.

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