AT least six children and teenagers who were known to social services have died due to suicide or accidents so far this year, it was revealed yesterday.
Another seven children have died of natural causes since January, according to cases notified to the National Review Panel, a watchdog set up to investigate these deaths.
The tragic toll involved two children in the care of the HSE and one young adult who had just left the service. Three of the children died by suicide and three others passed away after accidents, including a car crash.
The figure of 13 untimely deaths compares with 11 for the whole of 2011 and 22 in 2010.
Dr Helen Buckley, chairwoman of the panel, said health staff and gardai appear to be underestimating the risks to children in families where there is evident neglect, rather than physical or sexual abuse.
They can tend to regard these children as a lesser risk, a failing also highlighted in the Roscommon incest case which was revealed in recent years.
Also yesterday, the panel published six reports examining the deaths of five young people and one involved in a serious incident, all dating to 2010.
While there was no evidence that the tragedies were due to inaction of social services, there remained concerns about lack of co-operation between agencies to deal with drug and mental health issues, waiting lists and heavy workloads.
Other problems include irregular contact with families and early closure of cases because of the workload.
The six reports did not identify the children to ensure no further hardship was visited on their families. None involved parental abuse. Five of the young people died, one from natural causes, one from suicide and three due to accidents. The six were:
• A boy, known in the report as Adam, who died by suicide in late 2010. He was in his early teens. The case was referred to the HSE in late 2009 but involvement with social services was minimal. Social workers described it as a "bottom drawer" case, which was not high priority.
• A 15-year-old boy, known as O, who died in an accident. His family, who were known to the health services and other support organisations for 20 years, had little access to drug treatment for him. Health staff failed to appreciate the damaging effect of long-term neglect.
• A young boy, known as N, who died in 2010 and who was addicted to drugs. The review was not satisfied that enough was done to respond to concerns expressed by his mother that he might take his own life.
• A 14-month-old boy, known as Sean, who died of cot death. Questions emerged over whether his foster family were able to cope.
• A 17-year-old, known as V, who survived a serious accident. An inadequate assessment was carried out, concluding that he was not at risk.
• A young girl, known as R, who died in 2010. She had relationship difficulties with her mother. She had been placed on a waiting list by social workers.