New review of child deaths in care 'won't be a whitewash'
AN examination of reviews carried out into the deaths of children in state care will be no "whitewash", a member of the inquiry team pledged yesterday.
Solicitor and child-law expert Geoffrey Shannon admitted, however, that the number of children who died while in the care of the State may be higher than the 23 cases they already know of.
Mr Shannon has been appointed as part of a three-person team to carry out an independent examination of reviews commissioned by the HSE into child deaths since 2000. The other member of the team is Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at Barnardos and an international expert. The third person has yet to be appointed.
Outlining their approach yesterday, they said they would not be conducting individual inquiries into the deaths, but would be inviting the relatives of all the children involved to speak to them.
"We won't be laying down any tramlines for them to keep within. The children are not there to speak with us, but their families will have rich information to give us," Ms Gibbons said.
The Independent Review into Deaths of Children in care was set up by Children's Minister Barry Andrews in the wake of strong criticism over the failure to publish reviews.
Mr Shannon said he was giving a "cast-iron guarantee" that the inquiry would be "robust in all aspects" and said if the group felt constrained by the terms of reference they would revisit the issue with the minister and ask him to expand their remit.
Their investigations will be confined, however, to completed reviews and not those that are ongoing. The HSE also confirmed yesterday that the investigation would not stall the planned publication of two of these reviews planned for the coming weeks.
The review group will look at cases of all of the children who died in state care since 2000 and will include children who had reached adulthood or young adulthood.
Mr Shannon promised that independence would be "at the very core" of the review and insisted the group would be "fearless" in ensuring all of the information uncovered was brought to public attention.
"What we hope will be achieved by this is that the child-death review will provide a pathway to the making of recommendations to ensure that all children in care are heard and where children die in the care of the State that that information is made public," he said.
Ms Gibbons stressed the need to conduct the inquiries quickly, but could not say how long it would take for their work to be completed.
"It is important when something as tragic as a death happens that there is a clear and quick and competent inquiry carried out to explain what happened," she said.