Authorities 'abdicated duty' to ensure protection
AN INDEPENDENT report on how the State handled the cases of 112 children who died while in contact with social services has found authorities “abdicated their duty” to protect the welfare of many vulnerable young people.
The report of the Independent Child Death Review Group has examined all deaths of children that occurred in the care system between 2000 and 2010.
Of the 196 deaths that occurred during this time, some 112 were as a result of non-natural causes such as drug overdoses, suicide, road traffic incidents or unlawful killings. The rest were deaths due to natural causes.
Of the cases examined, the report found the majority did not receive an adequate child protection service.
Some care files were in “complete disarray”, with little or no records of what happened to children. In many cases, they failed to include a record of the death.
In addition, the Health Service Executive was found to have closed files on some children, even though it was aware of ongoing drug and alcohol abuse within their families.
Risk indicators were not followed up adequately, or at all, in many files, while in some cases no social worker was assigned to families at risk.
The report states there was evidence of good practice in many cases, with evidence of services being provided and attempts to build relationships with vulnerable young people in care.
However, too often this kind of work was “sporadic and inconsistent” and allowed children to engage in ever more risky behaviour during adolescence, with tragic outcomes.
While earlier and more consistent good practice might have helped children to overcome their vulnerabilities, the report will say it was not possible to conclude the deaths of individual children in the report could have been prevented.
The report was authored by child law expert and solicitor Geoffrey Shannon and Barnardos director of advocacy Norah Gibbons.
It was commissioned following concern over the State’s handling of the cases of vulnerable young people who had died while in care, as well as doubt over the true scale of the number of deaths in the care system.
It is understood to make a number of recommendations such as root-and-branch reform of the child protection system to ensure each child protection concern received a proper response.
In addition, it is likely to call for a relaxation of the in-camera rule in child care cases to allow for greater transparency and accountability over decisions made.
This would also allow for a greater flow of information between agencies.
CHILD DEATHS REPORT THE NUMBERS
196The number of children who were in contact with social services and who died, including 122 from non-natural causes.
36The number of children directly in the care system who died, including 17 from non-natural causes.
32The number of young people who died in the aftercare system, including 27 from non-natural causes.
128The number of children who died who were known to the HSE, including 68 from non-natural causes