Mental health services ‘ineffective’ for children with suicidal ideation, report finds

Review panel notified of 27 deaths of children known to Tusla last year

An independent watchdog has criticised State supports for young people with suicidal ideation as “ineffective”, saying many children who died by suicide in recent years had previously been referred to mental health services.

The national review panel (NRP), which examines deaths of young people known to Tusla, the child and family agency, said suicide had been the cause of death in nearly a quarter of cases since 2010.

The panel, chaired by Dr Helen Buckley, criticised how Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) dealt with vulnerable children suffering from suicidal ideation.

In its annual report published on Monday, the NRP said it had been notified of 27 deaths last year of children or young people who had been in State care, or who were known to Tusla services.


Eighteen of the children who died were five years old or younger, four were aged between 11 and 16, and five of the young people were between 17 and 20 years old.

In 14 cases young people died from natural causes, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, while six died by suicide, one died from an overdose and another died by homicide. In a number of cases the cause of death was listed as unknown as a coroner had not come to a conclusion.

The review panel said there had been 62 cases in the past 11 years where a child or young person known to social services had died by suicide, nearly a third of who were in State care or receiving aftercare supports. The youngest child who died by suicide had been 12 years old, the report said.

The panel noted that many of those who had died by suicide had previously been referred to Camhs. The report criticised the fact that a young person with suicidal ideation was not automatically deemed eligible for Camhs treatment.

“It appears to be the case that if a young person who self-harms is admitted to hospital, they are referred to Camhs but subsequently discharged from that service because they are not deemed to be mentally ill,” the report said.

The panel said as a result referring young people with suicidal ideation to Camhs for treatment was “often ineffective”. It recommended specific services for young people who were self harming needed to be developed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) or Tusla.

The NRP said another problem was an “anomaly” where children at risk of harm from their own behaviour were not given the same supports from Tusla, as those who were deemed to be in danger of being harmed by others, such as their parents. The report said in these instances children were often “diverted” to family support services with no follow-up checks.

The NRP said pressure on the workloads of Tusla social workers was a “recurring theme” in cases where children had died, which had inevitably led to delays in responses.

The panel noted it had also consistently pointed out “deficits” in how different State bodies worked together when responding to vulnerable young people who needed supports.

If you are affected by any issue in this article, please contact any of the following freephone numbers: Pieta House at 1800 247247; the Samaritans at 116123, or e-mailing; or YourMentalHealth information service at 1800 111 888

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times