Teenagers with mental health problems may be waiting up to three years in some regions to see a psychiatrist, it emerged yesterday.
Fergus Finlay of Barnardos, the children's charity, said mental health and addiction services need to be improved if teenagers who leave state care are not left to "struggle with issues" which overwhelm them.
He was speaking after it emerged that 27 children who were in state care or were known to the HSE died in the past year, seven of whom took their own lives.
Four took drug overdoses, two were victims of homicide. Seven died of natural causes, four died after a traffic accident and three in other accidents.
Mr Finlay said: "The majority of the children who died in the last year were known to the child protection system but were not in state care. It is crucial that children and families in this situation have access to a full range of services that can help them, including mental health and addiction services.
"Children continue to wait up to three years for assessment by Child and Adolescent Community Mental Health Teams in some areas. It is unacceptable that children are being left to struggle with issues that can overwhelm them."
He added: "The death of any child is tragic. The death of 27 children and young people in such a short space of time is particularly shocking.
"We are inching our way towards a better system for promoting and protecting children's welfare but young lives continue to be lost on the way.
"The improved transparency in the system marks notable progress but there remains much more to do. The establishment of the proposed Child Welfare and Protection Agency must be a priority for the Government."
All deaths of children in State care or aftercare must now be investigated and reported to the Health Information and Quality Authority under new rules introduced last year .
Mr Finlay said: "Many young people leaving care have already faced numerous challenges in their lives. Without adequate aftercare, they are cast adrift in the adult world.
"It is essential that these young people are given the chance to take steps towards adulthood with a safety net behind them as other young people have."