Family calls for inquiry into death in HSE care

Review panel report on boy aged 14 who died by suicide a ‘whitewash’, says family

A Tusla spokeswoman said the organisation “wishes to express sincere sympathies to the families, and all those affected by the deaths of the young people mentioned in the NRP reviews”. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A Tusla spokeswoman said the organisation “wishes to express sincere sympathies to the families, and all those affected by the deaths of the young people mentioned in the NRP reviews”. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The family of a boy who died in the care of the Health Service Executive is calling for an independent commission of inquiry into such deaths, describing a review of their son’s case published last week as a “whitewash”.

They say the report from the independent National Review Panel (NRP) “exonerates” the HSE for multiple failings and breaches of international and children’s rights law. They also question the NRP’s independence.

The NRP, which reviews the deaths of children in care or known to child protection services, last week reported on the deaths of 13 children and young people, including “Adam”. Its reports are published by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Adam, who had been in HSE care since he was 13, took his life at the age of 14. He had been diagnosed with a learning disability and his parents found him difficult to deal with. He was referred to the local social work department and to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

His behaviour became more risky and he was placed in a secure residential centre. There were problems arranging step-down care, which distressed him. He left the step- down placement and stayed intermittently with a woman the HSE had assessed. He was drinking, smoking hash and self-harming, and spoke repeatedly of wanting to die.

Alleged sex abuse

During this time he was allegedly sexually abused by a woman more than 10 years his senior, and under HSE psychiatric care. Though the HSE was informed, Adam’s mother was not told for five weeks. In addition his social worker spoke to Adam about it alone and without his parents’ knowledge.

It was agreed he should return to secure care. Adam told his mother he would “hang” himself if he had to go back. She told the HSE this. His social worker told Adam of the plan to return him to secure care over the phone, on a Friday. He went missing over the weekend but returned home on the Monday night, then left abruptly. He was found hanged the next morning.

His parents are angry at the report’s assertion that “neither action nor inaction by the HSE services . . . contributed to [Adam’s] death”. “This couldn’t be further from the truth,” they say. “In fact it is contradicted in the report.”

Complex needs

The report says Adam’s needs were complex. His social worker was “newly qualified and inexperienced”; “there was no comprehensive assessment of the origin of Adam’s difficulties”; “Adam was a child at risk of significant harm . . . especially . . . when he was in an unapproved placement”, and “the response to the allegations of child sexual abuse was not totally adequate”.

Adam’s parents say his rights, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights, were repeatedly breached and this is not reflected in the report.

“The HSE were fully aware of his serious suicidal ideation and failed to protect him. All we have ever wanted is accountability,” they said.“This report has all the hallmarks of a legal team making sure it exonerates the HSE. It is a whitewash and brings us no closer to accountability.”

The family believes a “holistic, independent investigation, either headed by a retired judge in a commission, or at the European courts” is the only way to get to the bottom of the matter.

A Túsla spokeswoman said the organisation “wishes to express sincere sympathies to the families, and all those affected by the deaths of the young people mentioned in the NRP reviews”.

“The NRP is functionally independent and produces reports that are independent of Tusla,” she added.