Vulnerable children still at risk due to care failures
SOCIAL services failed to respond on time to the needs of a vulnerable teenage mother whose baby died at just four months, an independent report revealed yesterday.
The baby, born to a 17-year-old girl whose family was reported to gardai for domestic abuse, was one of 35 children either in the care of the HSE or known to the service who died since March last year.
An independent review group found that there was an unacceptable lapse of time between gardai notifying the HSE about the teenage girl's violent father in 2006 and the first face-to-face contact with social workers in 2008.
The baby died last July from natural causes due to sudden unexpected death in infancy, with no signs of abuse or neglect. But mother and child had "led a very unsettled existence prior" to the tragic death.
Most of the 35 children and young people died from natural causes as well as suicide, serious accidents and drug overdoses.
Three of the deaths involved children in care, 20 related to children known to protection services and 12 to young adults aged between 18 and 21.
Apart from those who died, the National Review Panel -- made up of independent experts -- also found that a further 16 of the young people were involved in serious accidents.
The report said that while none of the deaths were directly due to a failure by the HSE, there continued to be serious weaknesses in the child-protection system, which are leaving vulnerable children at risk.
The report shone a light on the lives of those who died.
•A boy died three months before his 18th birthday of complications brought on by his diabetes. He lived alone in an apartment for four months with a lot of support from Youthreach staff. His mother moved from the area and the social work department put him on a list for assessment but there was a two-month delay and he died before it took place.
•A baby who died at five months was born prematurely with brain, heart and kidney problems while her other siblings were in care. Although there was a good standard of care by different agencies, there was a failure to assess the parenting capacity of the mother.
•A young man was found dead following an accident while he was sleeping rough. He had been in care since he was six years old up to his 18th birthday but had become involved in drink, drugs and criminal behaviour. The report said there was no evidence of a comprehensive assessment of his needs.
Commenting on the report, Dr Helen Buckley, a childcare expert at Trinity College, who chaired the group, said it was clear that the HSE had failed in a number of areas to put into practice its own policies for child welfare and protection.
Weaknesses include a lack of a standardised system to assess the needs of children and young people whose cases are reported to the HSE.