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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Damning report lifts lid on chaos of HSE care services

Dearbhail McDonald, Eilish O'Regan and Grainne Cunningham

ABANDONED abroad by his mother as a toddler and imprisoned as a teenager, Young Person 19 was left to fend for himself on the streets after the HSE closed his file at the age of 18.

Within months he was dead.

Young Person 19 was one of 196 tragic deaths of children and young adults whose tragic plight was detailed in the shocking 400-plus page report of the Independent Child Death Review Group (ICDRG).

The report, described by its authors as a "damning indictment" of Ireland's child protection system, unveiled a catalogue of failures by the HSE.

The review, led by child law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons who is a director for advocacy at Barnardos, investigated the circumstances surrounding the deaths of children and young people in care, aftercare, or known to Child Protection Services over a 10-year period.

The failings included:

• An absence of HSE records of children who died.

• The closure of case files on vulnerable minors -- even though their parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol.

• A lack of support and supervision for social workers.

• A lack of proper risk assessment for vulnerable children.

Of the 196 deaths, some 112 died of non-natural causes such as drug overdoses, suicides, and road incidents.

The harrowing files show that many young people who died in care had self-harmed, had been sexually and physically abused, were rejected by their birth families and suffered educational and mental health difficulties from an early age.

Despite this, many were not referred to specialist services and supports.

Last night, the heartbroken relatives of some of the children who died in state care called for independent inquiries into their deaths.

"Daniel was one of many children failed by the HSE and the care system in Ireland," said Cathriona McAnaspie, sister of Daniel McAnaspie, a 17-year-old who was found dead with stab wounds after he went missing from HSE care.

Two men are awaiting trial for his murder.

"His death must not be in vain," said Ms McAnaspie.

"He deserved better. All of the children who died in care deserved better. The HSE and the State did not protect them when they were alive. It should not fail them again now they are dead."

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald described the report's disclosures as "deeply disturbing" and accepted that it would not bring closure but more pain for bereaved families.

"Each of these deaths is an appalling tragedy," the minister added.

She claimed that "as part of the most radical reform of child welfare and protection services ever undertaken in the State", many of the actions and reforms called for were already under way. A central plank would involve removing child protection from the HSE and the setting up a new Child and Family Support Agency early next year.

This new agency would involve clearer management and budgetary accountability, she promised.

While accepting the report's recommendation for an independent child death review system, she stopped short of pledging to establish a stand alone investigation unit.

Gordon Jeyes, the HSE's National Director of Child and Family Services, said his thoughts were with the families and carers of these young people.

Mr Jeyes, who was pressed on a number of occasions at yesterday's report launch to say if there were any consequences for staff who had failed children, admitted a number had been disciplined.

However, he refused to elaborate on what kind of disciplinary action was involved and if anyone was demoted or lost their jobs.

He acknowledged the failings in the systems and in work practices in the past, adding they would be used to promote learning and inform an extensive reform programme already under way in state-run child and family services.


Irish Independent

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