Child care services 'to be reformed'

 

The Government has pledged to implement a series of wide-ranging reforms to child protection services on foot of a damning report into children who died while in the State’s care system.

The Independent Child Death Review Group’s report – described by its authors as a “devastating indictment” of social services – found that 196 children died between 2000 and 2010. Of these, 112 died of overdoses, suicide, unlawful killings and other non-natural causes.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the findings were “deeply disturbing” and pledged to implement all of the report’s recommendations, which include a root-and-branch review of the care system.

“What we have found, in one word, is a disgrace,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “If ever evidence was required of the scale of the challenge which this Government and I have had to face into, then this report is it.”



Among the changes to be made include:

* Changing the law to allow access to court cases involving child welfare and protection for the first time.

* Strengthening the law to ensure all children in care are entitled to aftercare after they reach 18.

* Introducing a 24-hour social work service, instead of operating during office hours.

She said plans for a review of child protection services were under way and would feed into the new child and family support agency.

This body will take over responsibility for child protection from the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The report by child law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Barnardos director of advocacy Norah Gibbons found the majority of children in the review did not receive an adequate child protection service.

In addition, some files were in “complete disarray”, with little or no records, while there was evidence the HSE had closed files on children, even though they were still at risk.

The report also contains individual case studies of children who died in care or while in contact with social services. They include:

* A baby girl who was left in the care of an eight-year-old sibling the night before she died. Her family had been known to the HSE for four years prior to the child’s birth,

* A teenager who was only placed in care after almost a dozen referrals regarding neglect, non-attendance at school and domestic violence. He died of a drugs overdose in emergency lodgings.

* A young asylum seeker with a history of self-harm and suicide attempts who was placed in a hostel with other separated young people. He died by suicide just over a year after entering the care system

Gordon Jeyes, head of the HSE’s child and family services, said there were cases of poor practice and systems failures illustrated in the report.

While some staff had faced disciplinary action, he did not say if anyone had lost their job over poor performance.

He pointed out, however, there were many examples of staff members who went to great lengths, and beyond their professional duties, to support children.

The families of some of those who died in the care system yesterday described their anger at seeing how their relatives had been failed.

Danny Talbot (19) died in the summer of 2009 of a suspected drug overdose. His case shows there were a series of missed opportunities by the child protection system to provide him with proper care and protection.

His aunt Donna Lamb said: “It’s been very upsetting to see what happened to him. We’ve been campaigning for answers for years and we’re angry it’s taken this long. No one was ever held accountable for what happened to him.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance said it was shameful that vulnerable young people died during the height of the Celtic Tiger years, while in contact with an under-funded and under-resourced care system.

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