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Tragedy of Christopher shows yet again why HSE must give up the job of child protection

It says everything about the unfitness of the HSE to protect children that a social worker used her own credit card to book a chaotic, out-of-control 17-year-old into a Jury's Inn because there was nowhere else for him to go.

That information came out at the inquest into the death of Christopher O'Driscoll who died of pneumonia and the effects of drug abuse in a derelict house last year.

Christopher was so chaotic that you have to wonder if anything could have saved him. He had been abusing drugs since the age of 12. Shortly before his death he had been put out of a HSE-run hostel for behaviour which included throwing himself in front of traffic.


He discharged himself from a psychiatric unit and refused to agree to go to St Patrick's Institution. Even the best-run system might have been unable to get him on the road to recovery.

But what the case shows is the utter inability of the HSE to cope with the demands of providing a child protection service.

Such a service must include the ability to cope with people like Christopher but that ability is simply absent. In a sense Christopher dictated his own care while the HSE stood by, bemused and unable to do anything at all sensible with him.

In saying this I am not referring to or criticising the social workers or other child care staff involved with him. For a social worker to book him into a hotel with her own credit card and then to spend the weekend looking for him after he was kicked out of the hotel because of an incident is to display an extraordinary dedication to duty.

It contradicts criticisms we sometimes hear of social workers providing a 9 to 5 service and it supports remarks I've heard over the years in praise of social workers in the Cork area, where Christopher was.

But doesn't the fact that she had to do that at all paint a pathetic picture of the HSE? Doesn't it support calls for child protection to be removed from the HSE altogether?

The most recent of these calls came from Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at Barnardos, at the MacGill Summer School. The HSE, in relation to child protection services, lacks leadership, she said. It is not fit for the purpose of protecting the welfare of children. "It is not fit for the task," she declared.

Norah Gibbons is one of the two people looking into the deaths of children in the care of the HSE or who had recently been in its are or who were known to it.

She has advocated for children for decades with Barnardos and been involved in setting up childcare services through that excellent organisation.

So when she speaks on these matters she is worth listening to and she is making it very clear indeed that the HSE has failed to cope and that she herself has no faith that it will ever develop the ability to cope.

The inescapable conclusion from all that is that child protection must be removed from the HSE and taken over by a dedicated organisation which would have no other purpose.

This is all the more urgent given Mary Harney's warnings of heavy cuts on the way.

When the Minister for Health and Children is warning of "serious consequences" you have to expect that the axe will fall very heavily and very bloodily.

That being the case, whatever resources are left for child protection must be used in the best possible way. Nobody outside the HSE believes the HSE is capable of doing that.

So please -- listen to the Norah Gibbons of this world who know what they are talking about and give the job to someone who can do it.