Death of children in State care

Sat, Jun 23, 2012, 01:00

Sir, – While the publication of the Independent Child Death Review Group’s report is undoubtedly welcome, its mere disclosure into the public domain does not guarantee our society will adequately change its practices into how it deals with our most vulnerable children.

The sheer scale of the findings shows a shocking lack of critical, early support in how the State’s child care system deals with at-risk children who come to its attention. But, to say that these findings are surprising would be misleading.

For more than 20 years many social workers at the frontline of our child care services have been describing the difficulties and constrictions that have blocked them from adequately carrying out their potentially life-saving work. Often social workers have been forced to go beyond what was required, sometimes taking from their own pockets to help children at risk when resources were denied by management.

Meanwhile, the State’s tight parent-focused legislation often hampered staff from directly approaching the child who might be in danger. In some cases, this reduced ability to intervene has led to terrifying consequences for the child and its family, many instances of which are laid out in harrowing detail in the child death report.

Since the report’s publication, many negative descriptions have been attributed to the State’s child care system – from Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald labelling it a “disgrace” to its authors calling it a “devastating indictment” of our social services. But while most of the public would agree with these descriptions, merely castigating the system does not go far enough. As things stand, no direct action has been taken that would prevent the same devastating lack of intervention in child care taking place today.

Therefore, we must act decisively. The recommendations laid out in the report must be acted upon as soon as possible. The era of virtual secrecy between State departments and agencies working in child protection must end, and the channels of communication between staff in this area need to be open and transparent. We need to do this, not just to protect the vulnerable children now in child care institutions, whose stories are often all-too similar to the ones that have been detailed in this week’s newspapers, but to help all the State’s children. No matter what backgrounds they have, these children are our children, and the future of our country. We must acknowledge all of them as our own, and care for them as such.

I welcome the Tánaiste’s announcement of an autumn date for the much-anticipated and much-needed referendum on the rights of the child. Clearly, enshrining children’s rights in our Constitution is essential. These rights must apply for all of our children, whatever their background or circumstance, so that those in the care of the State are entitled to the same rights, services, and welfare as every child in this country.

In the meantime, the Government has a crucial task in effectively drafting the referendum legislation, balancing the rights of the family with the State’s responsibility for its most vulnerable in society. As a nation, we must watch closely to ensure this is done to the benefit of all our children. – Yours, etc,

Sr STANISLAUS KENNEDY,

Social Justice Activist and

Campaigner,

St Andrew’s Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – The Independent Child Death Review Group’s report indicates systemic failures at various levels in the Irish health and social services systems. These problems did not arise suddenly in 2000, but had been on-going for several years prior to this. Brian Cowen was minister for health and children from 1997 to 2000. Micheál Martin was minister for health and children from 2000 to 2004. Mary Harney was minister for health and children from 2004 to 2011. All three have enjoyed large publicly-funded salaries, expense accounts and/or pensions and gratuities.

Will the Irish taxpayer and the relatives of the 196 children who died, see any accountability for the failures that occurred under the stewardship of these ministers? – Yours, etc,

EDWARD HORGAN,

Newtown,

Castletroy,

Limerick.

Sir, – It is ironic that on the same day (June 21st) the Government commits to protecting the rights of children, the Minister for Education and Skills is ignoring children’s rights within 1,500 “stand alone” schools.

The Forum Report on Pluralism and Patronage acknowledged that the constitutional right of children to be withdrawn from religious instruction in denominational schools is ignored and also violated by the integrated curriculum. If the Catholic Church is to be left in charge of schools where there is no other local choice, surely the State must insist that children’s rights therein are respected in return for the taxpayer funding them?

There is not much point in holding a constitutional referendum to promote children’s rights if their existing rights under the Constitution are flouted with impunity! – Yours, etc,

DICK SPICER,

Sugarloaf Crescent,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I read with great sadness Helen Buckley’s article (Opinion, June 21st), which highlights the fact that the child protection services have not met the needs of those vulnerable children, many of whom have died, even though they were assigned to the care and protection of the HSE and others.

The words radical and reform are mentioned in the title of this article.

These words are most appropriate, given that so many children have died as a result of incompetence, negligence, and failure of duty of care by the HSE and any other parties who were responsible for these children.

So often, when something goes wrong in our country, our society, we read or hear the words, radical and reform, such as in the case of our education system, our health service, our political system, our prison system, and so forth.

Rarely are these words transformed into appropriate action although reports and findings of fact are produced.

What is obvious in this latest national scandal is the chilling fact that innocent lives have been lost.

Can we truly call  21st-century Irish society caring, inclusive, and responsible, when we have so many vulnerable children who have died in the care of the State? I think not, having read Ms Buckley’s revelatory article. – Yours, etc,

JOSEPH MCBRIDE,

Charlotte Quay,

Dublin 4.