State agency apologises for lapses in support for vulnerable teen

Child and Family Agency publishes reports into deaths of four children

Chairwoman of the National Review Panel Dr Helen Buckley with Paul Harrison at the launch of the report. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Chairwoman of the National Review Panel Dr Helen Buckley with Paul Harrison at the launch of the report. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 14:32

The Child and Family Agency has apologised for failing to meet the needs of a vulnerable teenager in State care, who died despite being in desperate need of support throughout his life.

Four reports were published yesterday into the deaths of young people who were either in State care or known to social services.

One of cases involved Danny Talbot, who died in 2009 at the age of 19 following a drugs overdose while in State aftercare services.

The report reveals critical failings in mental health services, unacceptable gaps in record-keeping and poor frontline social work practice over the course of most of his life.

There were also serious weaknesses in the management and accountability within the HSE relating to his case, according to the report. ‘Shortcomings’ Paul Harrison, director of policy and strategy at the Child and Family Agency, acknowledged “considerable shortcomings” in State support available to the young man.

“Whilst acknowledging the considerable service pressures on social work staff at the time, the statutory intervention provided to a young person at high risk was insufficient and poorly co-ordinated,” he said. “The necessary State support did not happen and we must acknowledge this and apologise.”

Mr Talbot’s aunt, Donna Lamb, said she feared many other vulnerable teens were still at risk, despite claims that the service had improved over recent years.

“We see them all the time and we get calls from families who are still being ignored by the care system,” Ms Lamb said. “Danny fell through the cracks in the system. He’s dead now, but other children will continue to die until there is some accountability for the service.” Radical changes Mr Harrison said there had been “radical changes” to the way social services responded to vulnerable young people since these tragic deaths in recent years.

They include the establishment of the Child and Family Agency, which has taken over responsibility for child protection services from the HSE.

He also pointed to the development of new protocols, assessment frameworks and other reforms aimed at securing greater co-ordination and accountability for services.

However, the chairwoman of an independent review team which examined the deaths expressed concern yesterday at staffing vacancies and delays responding to reports of abuse and neglect.

Dr Helen Buckley said while there had been welcome reforms to the way child protection services were organised, there also needed to be investment in training and staffing of frontline services.

The agency has confirmed there are more than 160 vacant positions across the services – including more than 80 social work posts – and as many as 9,000 reports on alleged neglect or abuse that are waiting to be allocated at any one time.

When asked if a case like Danny Talbot’s could occur again, Dr Buckley said it was impossible to rule out.