Tuesday 12 December 2017

Litany of shame: Murder, suicide, drugs and accidents kill 110 kids in State care in ten years

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

AN independent inquiry into the deaths of children in State care has been described as a "harrowing" tale and a litany of shame.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the report is analyses of the lives of 196 children known to social social services during the Celtic Tiger boom.

The report, by child law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, of Barnardos, will be published this afternoon by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, who has described it as "harrowing".

Mr Kenny told the Dail that each was a story of shame and many focused on complex social issues, including with family circumstances, drugs and mental health.

"This is obviously an independent report and I commend Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons for the clarity and the research and the analysis that they have carried out in respect of what is a harrowing tale and a litany of shame in many respects, that's happened here," he said.

The report found more than 110 youngsters known to the Health Service Executive (HSE) who died between 2000 and 2010 were from unnatural causes including murder, suicide, drugs and road traffic accidents.

Mr Kenny said his Fine Gael/Labour coalition had not put an end to all the difficulties outlined in the report, but had appointed a senior Minister for Children, given a guarantee for a children's referendum and was setting up a child protection agency.

He stressed Ms Fitzgerald wanted the report published "so the truth be known".

"Clearly, from the reading of the report, there were multiple agencies involved and children, unfortunately, were not receptiants of the kind of care and attention," he added.

It is understood the report, which is several hundred pages long, is critical of child protection services and calls for independent inquiries into some cases.

The 437-page report criticised the level of care given to vulnerable children in care, after care and known to the HSE.

Of 36 deaths in care, 17 were unnatural with five suicides, five drug-related, three killed in road crashes, two unlawfully killed and two accidental.

"Ultimately and tragically the efforts to protect these children failed," the report said.

Good practice was sporadic and inconsistent, with delays in taking 12 of the children into care and poor record-keeping on 15 files, it found.

There were no critical incident reports into the deaths of 26 of the 36 youngsters.

The report said that while earlier and more consistent good practice would have increased the chances of the children to overcome their vulnerabilities, it was not possible to conclude that the death of the child or a young person would have been ultimately prevented.

Of the 32 deaths of children and young people in aftercare, 27 were unnatural with more than half drug-related. There seven suicides, three road accidents and one unlawful killing.

Eight files were in "complete disarray" and three impossible to assess what was done with the young person.

Again, any good practice was sporadic and inconsistent and in some cases there was no aftercare at all or left at the option of the young person.

"Such an abdication of duty on the part of the HSE is unacceptable, and fails to properly meet the welfare needs of these vulnerable young people," the inquiry found.

"If a young person refuses to engage in aftercare the HSE should not automatically accept this and close their file.

"Mistakes have to be learned from. Questions need to be asked when a young person dies while in aftercare."

Another 128 deaths focused on children and young people known to the HSE, of which 68 were unnatural.

The majority were in their teens and included 16 suicides, 13 unlawful killing and 11 drug deaths.

A number of files were closed despite alcohol and drugs being a problem in the home and there was also a lack of resources to provide appropriate supports, a lack of out-of-hours social work services and an unacceptable overuse of duty social workers.

Mr Shannon and Ms Gibbons also hit out at society over the adverse consequences of alcohol in the homes, with young children exposed to poor parenting, neglect, sexual and physical abuse and psychological trauma.

"It is wholly unrealistic to assume that the social work profession or any other - no matter how well trained, supervised and supported by best practice - can remedy the damage for younger family members of serious alcohol misuse other than in a very limited and partial way," they found.

"Failure on the part of society to comprehensively address the alcohol problem as a major threat to the proper functioning of individuals, families and communities is to leave child protection systems to deal with insurmountable consequences."

More than 27,000 reports are made to HSE child protection services each year, with 2,000 concerns over welfare, abuse and neglect confirmed.

There are more than 6,000 children in the care of the HSE at any one time, with over 90pc with foster carers and the remainder in residential care.

The team recommended a Child Death Review Unit be established to automatically investigate the death of any child or young person in the care of aftercare of the HSE and a root-and-branch reform of the child protection system in Ireland.

The Children's Minister said the findings were deeply disturbing.

"I do not expect today's report to bring closure," she admitted, extending her sympathies to the those affected.

"Indeed, I am sure it will, for many, bring pain."

Ms Fitzgerald said it was totally unacceptable that the State could not even tell how many children has died in State care until the report was ordered by her predecessor.

She said the veil of uncertainty and secrecy, which existed at that time, has finally been lifted and shone a light in a dark, often unexamined and tragic corner of Irish life.

"It is in the public interest that this report be published," she continued.

"It shows what happens when children are failed - how crucial interventions missed can lead to childhoods destroyed and in some instances lives lost."

At least 28 of the young people died by suicide and 16 were killed.

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

"The report identifies a series of failings by the system in meeting care needs at both system and practice levels."

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