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27 children 'known to' HSE died in year

TWENTY-seven children and young people have died in the care of -- or known to -- the HSE in the past year.

Suicide accounted for seven of the deaths, while a further seven died of natural causes.

Four of the individuals died of drug overdoses and another seven died in road traffic or other accidents.

Two of the deaths were as a result of homicides.

The figures include children and young people who are known to the HSE child protection system, some of them having left State care.

Gordon Jeyes, the HSE's National Director for Children and Family Services, said every death was one too many but added that the numbers were not out of kilter with other jurisdictions.

Mr Jeyes welcomed plans by the Government to set up a new agency to oversee child protection and welfare services.

He said clarity on the development would come rapidly as it is a Government priority.

Mr Jeyes said he expected all children in care to have access to social workers this year.

He also questioned whether it was the best use of resources to investigate the deaths of children who had been in care and who had died from natural causes.

The figures cover the 12 months from March 10 last year when the HSE introduced a new system for recording the deaths of children in care.

Under the revamped system, the HSE notifies the Health Information and Quality Authority of the deaths.

It also records the deaths of young adults between 18 and 21 years who were previously in State care.

Mr Jeyes said the criteria set by HIQA were broader than in other jurisdictions.

A new category of missing children -- that of children missing and in danger -- should be created, he added.

Overall, the culture in the HSE has been very defensive and he would like more information shared unless it was not in the interests of families, said Mr Jeyes, who was appointed in January following controversy over the HSE's poor record in child protection issues.

The row erupted after it emerged a HSE report into the death of Tracey Fay was withheld for years. It was finally leaked by Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter, now the Minister for Justice, in March 2010.

Ms Fay died at the age of 18 in January 2002 of a drug overdose.