Almost half of youth deaths in State care from suicide or overdose

Eighteen young people in care system died by suicide or drug overdose in past decade

Tusla figures show there are more than 5,800 children in care. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tusla figures show there are more than 5,800 children in care. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Nearly half of the deaths of children and young people who died while in the care of the State in the last decade were due to suicide or drug overdoses, new figures show.

Forty-two young people died in the State care system between 2010 and 2019, with 18 dying by suicide or from a drug overdose.

Twelve died by suicide, with the remaining six deaths attributed to drug overdoses. The remainder were recorded as dying from natural causes and from accidents.

In 2014 alone, four young people in the care system died by suicide, while three died from drug overdoses in 2010. Children and adolescents taken into care by Tusla, the child and family agency, are placed in foster homes or residential centres. Tusla figures show there are more than 5,800 children in care.

The figures include those who died while receiving aftercare support services in the years after turning 18.

The National Review Panel (NRP) is responsible for examining deaths of children in care, and those known to child-protection and welfare services.

Last year, the independent body reported 206 children and young people known to child-protection services had died over the previous decade, almost a quarter of them by suicide. The total number of deaths included the 42 in the care system.

Access to services

Dr Helen Buckley, chair of the NRP, said one recurring problem was many children were not getting access to “the range of services they need”.

The review panel had been “critical” of problems around young people accessing adequate mental health supports, she said.

In many cases it was after a young person turned 18 and moved on to aftercare supports when they died by suicide, during what she said was often a period of increased “vulnerability”.

The figures were compiled in response to a parliamentary query from Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín, who described the number of deaths as a concern.

“I genuinely cannot get my head around the fact that 18 children have died by suicide or drug overdose in the care of the State,” Mr Tóibín said.

A Tusla spokeswoman said the “death of a child or young person is a tragedy and the agency extends its sympathy to anyone affected by the very sad events”.

Tusla said it notified all deaths of children in care to the NRP and the Health Information and Quality Authority for review.

Marissa Ryan, chief executive of Epic, an organisation working with young people in care, said they often dealt with “frequent social worker rotation and the geographical lottery of service provision,” which caused significant stress.

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