HSE admits flaws in child data collection

 

THE HEALTH Service Executive (HSE) has admitted major flaws in the way information is collected about vulnerable children in care.

The admission comes shortly after the HSE said it does not know how many young people have died while in State care.

It also follows reports the HSE has failed to hand over files on the deaths of children in its care to an independent panel set up to review such deaths.

The HSE claimed it had legal advice that it could not hand over the files to panel members child-law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons of Barnardos. They were asked in March by Minister for Children Barry Andrews to review HSE investigations into the deaths of children in care over the past decade but have yet to receive a single file.

Mr Andrews said yesterday he did not believe there was anything to stop the HSE handing over the files. He will be getting his own legal advice.

In a statement late last night the HSE said details contained in the files relate to court proceedings which were held in camera, under the provision of the Child Care Act, and the HSE “is seeking legal guidance on how it can best prepare these files for transfer to the independent review group”.

It added: “Given the sensitive and personal nature of the information contained in the files, the HSE must be assured that it will not be breaching the provisions of the Child Care Act, the Data Protection Act or any individuals constitutional provisions”.

Earlier the HSE’s assistant director of children and family services Phil Garland admitted there were flaws in the manner in which it gathers details pertaining to the deaths of children in care. “It is absolutely not acceptable that this delay is there. We should have this information in a much clearer way,” he said. “It is quite clear that we have deficits in our system. It is quite clear we have inconsistencies in terms of how we do standardised processes,” he told RTÉ radio.

Mr Andrews said at the weekend he was “extremely frustrated” at the length of time it is taking the HSE to furnish him with information on the number of children who have died over the past decade.

The official figure given by the HSE prior to the death of Daniel McAnaspie was 23 but Mr Andrews has admitted the number may be higher.

The HSE has said media reports at the weekend claiming that as many as 200 have died in care “were based on speculation”.

Mr Garland said he shared Mr Andrews’s frustration over the delay in gathering data but added accurate figures should be available to the Minister next month.

“I have written to the Minister and indicated that it is so important to get this right that it will take a period of weeks and by the end of June we will have that information,” he said.

Mr Garland also said he was hopeful data regarding care deaths would be given to the independent team established to review the scandal later this week.

Fine Gael called on Taoiseach Brian Cowen to intervene in the matter. The party’s children’s spokesman Alan Shatter accused Mr Andrews of renouncing responsibility over the number of child deaths and said it was unclear who exactly was responsible for childcare and protection services.

“The Minister is expressing public frustration at the HSE’s inability to furnish to him definitive figures as to the number of children in the past decade who have died in care or who have died subsequent to being reported at risk, a year and a half after I first sought this information,” said Mr Shatter.

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said more action was needed to address the issues relating to children who die or go missing while in care. “This is something that requires really high-level political direction”.