Monday 25 September 2017

Litany of care failures by HSE in child deaths

Geoffrey Shannon: expert
who chaired review group
Geoffrey Shannon: expert who chaired review group
Catriona and Nikita McAnaspie, sisters of the late Daniel McAnaspie protesting outside the Dail

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE HSE failed to record the deaths of some children in its care and closed files on vulnerable minors without assigning social workers -- even though their parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol.

It also failed to pass on to gardai reports that children had been victims of "serious incidents", including assault, according to a shocking report into the deaths of almost 200 children in state care.

The Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group (ICDRG), which will be published on Wednesday, also found the deaths of children in care who died of natural causes such as asthma and cancer may have been avoided through early intervention by the State.

Last night the HSE said it could not comment on whether any disciplinary action had been taken against staff in relation to the issue of child deaths in state care.

A spokeswoman said it would be outlining its position following publication of the ICDRG report. The report, whose contents have been described as "harrowing and horrific" -- and which may expose the taxpayer to lawsuits from bereaved families -- details errors and poor practice by HSE staff and social workers dealing with some of Ireland's most vulnerable families.

It found:

• The majority of children did not receive an adequate child protection service.

• Delays taking children into care.

• Poor and incomplete records.

• Failure to record critical incidents, including the deaths of almost 30 children.

• No care for young people after they turn 18.

• Lack of co-operation between agencies.

• Lack of support and supervision for social workers.

The report examined the deaths of 196 children in care and young adults known to child protection services between January 2000 and April 2010.

Of these, 112 died from non-natural causes, including unlawful killing, suicide and drug related illness, while 84 died of natural causes.

Of 36 children who died in the direct care of the HSE, 17 were due to non-natural causes.

Although the report does not identify children and families involved, its authors call for an independent investigation into several high-profile deaths of children in the care of the HSE or known to the agency.

These include teenager Daniel McAnaspie, who was killed while in the care of the State.

The report of the review group, chaired by child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at Barnardos, will be published without any redactions.

Resisted

It calls for an independent unit to review child deaths, a relaxation of the strict confidentiality surrounding care cases, and a total reform of protection.

In the report, the authors say that they are particularly concerned that the HSE knew, in a number of files, of drug and alcohol abuse by parents, but chose to close the files.

The report praises the "sheer determination" of under-resourced -- and often unsupervised -- social workers to support families, even where this was fiercely resisted by parents.

The issues facing thousands of children in Ireland have been laid bare in the report. These include alcohol and drug abuse in the home, physical and sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence and homelessness.

Children are also at risk from parents' mental illness, criminal activity by their parents or other family members and high rates of school absenteeism.

The HSE's child protection service receives some 27,000 reports each year.

Around 2,000 of these confirm concerns raised by people who report child abuse suspicions.

Irish Independent

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