Children’s deaths ‘not related’ to quality of Tusla’s care

Report finds 26 children died while known to protection services last year, a five-year high

The report said it was notable that the three young people who died whilst in care all died from suicide. Photograph: Thinkstock

The report said it was notable that the three young people who died whilst in care all died from suicide. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The deaths of children while in the care of the State were not “related directly to the quality of the service that they received from Tusla”, the agency’s interim director of strategy and policy has said.

Cormac Quinn, speaking on RTÉ radio on Sunday, said however there was “learning” to be taken from the National Review Panel annual report for 2014, which found 26 children died last year while in State care, in aftercare or while known to the protection services.

It is the highest number of deaths of such children in the last five years.

Mr Quinn said: “The issue of assessment is certainly something that we have to look at . . . There is definitely learning from the reports in terms of the quality of assessment that we need to be looking at.”

Responding to comments from Robert Troy, Fianna Fáil spokesman for children, that children were dying due to inadequate resourcing of Tusla, Mr Quinn said the agency’s budget had increased from €643 million this year, to €676 million for next year. This increased funding would be targeted at recruiting more social workers, improving the quality of services and an enhanced focus on early intervention and prevention, he said.

The report from the National Review Panel found eight of the 26 children who died in 2014 children had died by suicide and eight of natural causes. Five children were killed in road crashes, two died by homicide, one by drug overdose, one death was described as “other accident” and in another, the cause was not established.

Of those who died, 18 were boys and eight were girls. And 80 per cent were 16 years or under and more than 70 per cent were categorised as “known to the child protection service”.

The report said it was notable that the three young people who died whilst in care all died from suicide.

Case reviews

During 2014, the panel, chaired by Prof Helen Buckley, also examined the deaths of four children and young people in particular.

A major review was conducted in the case of a 19-year-old who had been in care since he was eight years old and who died of a drug overdose.

The panel found his needs were not met through contact with the then HSE childcare services, there was too much responsibility left with his family, and frontline practice was weak, with weaknesses in management and accountability.

A second review into the death of a young person, found he had been allowed to remain too long in an environment where drug use was the norm, with a parent who could not keep him safe or meet his needs.

“An earlier admission to care would have better protected him,” the panel concluded.

A third review, into the death of a toddler in a domestic accident, found some positive practice, but an absence of planning. The case had remained on a waiting list without much prospect of allocation, the report said.

The fourth review involved the death of a child with a disability from a terminal illness.

The then HSE had taken High Court proceedings to dispense with parental consent for treatment of the child. The panel found social work services had demonstrated very strong commitment to fulfilling the child’s rights.

The annual report also showed that of the 103 children and young people in care, aftercare or known to protection services that died in the last five years, 28 died by suicide. Eight children and young people died of drug overdose and five by homicide.

Among the panel’s recommendations, which had been repeated in earlier reports, were suicide prevention programmes for Tusla staff, and easier access to therapeutic services for young people who had emotional difficulties, but who did not meet the criteria for mental health services.

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