At least 24 youths died in care of HSE
AT LEAST 24 children and young adults who were involved with social services have died in the past year and a half, according to health authorities.
Official figures show the largest number of deaths, 12, was due to natural causes, followed by suicide (5), road traffic incidents (3) and other incidents, including drug overdoses. The details were disclosed yesterday at the publication of six reports into child deaths and serious incidents, which highlighted grave pressure on social services such as delays in responding to neglect cases and heavy caseloads.
The reports were compiled by an independent group established by the Health Service Executive (HSE) – the National Review Panel for Serious Incidents and Child Deaths. It is charged with identifying weaknesses in policy and practice in child protection and ensuring steps are taken to strengthen services.
Group chairwoman Dr Helen Buckley of Trinity College Dublin said there was no evidence in the cases under review that deaths of children were directly linked to the inaction of social services.
She said many of the cases highlighted serious issues such as poor social work practice, lack of co-operation between State agencies, inadequate assessments and poor recording of information.
“I see services under huge pressure and I see that countrywide,” Ms Buckley said, adding that hiring extra social workers would not necessarily solve problems facing child protection services.
She said it was vital to invest in the kind of services needed by children and families, such as mental health, addiction services and family support. These should be properly integrated with child and family services, she added.
The six reports published yesterday highlighted numerous gaps and shortcomings. Among the issues highlighted were:
A lack of policy, or implementation of existing policies, relating to assessments, supervision of individual cases and recording of information. In particular, there was a need to develop a policy on suicide prevention for adolescents at risk.
A lack of a national, integrated policy for developing child and adolescent mental health and addiction services.
Pressure on child protection services was very high and there were delays responding to referrals, along with waiting lists for allocation of work.
Sometimes there was irregular contact with family members after cases were allocated. In addition, cases were sometimes closed too early, often as a result of pressure on social work teams.
The six reports concerned five deaths of young people and one serious incident concerning a young person. Three of the deaths were due to accidents, one was due to natural causes and one to suicide. The serious incident concerned an accident.