Child-death inquiry gets new powers to probe HSE
THE inquiry set up to investigate the deaths of almost 200 children in care has been granted sweeping new powers, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Independent Review into Deaths of Children in Care (IRDCC) will now include an investigation into the deaths of vulnerable teenagers in receipt of aftercare by the Health Services Executive (HSE) and children who were not in state care but who were known to the child protection services before they died.
Aftercare, which involves assisting with accommodation, education, employment, health and social care needs, is usually implemented when the young person turns 18 and is officially no longer under the full-time remit of the care system.
The terms of reference were amended following a robust exchange of correspondence between Children's Minister Barry Andrews and the inquiry team, who insisted from the outset that their inquiry "will not be a whitewash". Under the old terms of reference, the inquiry team -- composed of child law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, the director of advocacy at children's charity Barnardos -- could only investigate the deaths of children who were in care when they died.
But the remit has been expanded to include the deaths of vulnerable children who died in the so-called "twilight zone" of aftercare. It will also include children who were living with their parents or other relatives at the time of their death, but who had interacted with child protection services.
Under the new, revised terms of reference the IRDCC will also have the power to:
- Obtain files and other information from non-HSE sources including gardai, coroners, schools and hospitals.
- Interview families of the dead children.
The IRDCC was set up by Mr Andrews in March in the wake of criticism over the failure to publish reviews into the deaths of children in care. When the review was announced, Mr Shannon said he was giving a "cast-iron guarantee" the inquiry would be "robust".
He said if the group felt constrained by the terms of reference they would revisit the issue. The Irish Independent has also learned the first tranche of HSE files relating to deaths of almost 40 children has been handed over to the inquiry.
Last month, the Government introduced emergency legislation to allow the HSE to furnish the inquiry with documents on child deaths. However, the inquiry sought additional powers to validate the information obtained from the HSE against other files on children's deaths held by gardai and coroners.
Publication of the revised terms of reference comes as Mr Andrews revealed several issues needed to be resolved before the Government held a referendum on children's rights. "There is still some more work that needs to be done in terms of looking at the wording and the consequences of it," he said.