19th October 2011
A series of reports undertaken by the national review panel for serious incidents and child deaths. This report details the circumstances of child deaths and serious incidents involving children and young people. The first annual report of the national review panel was also published yesterday and it provided an overview of the work carried out by the group since its establishment in 2010. It is the first of what I hope will be an annual report. The report highlighted a number of deficiencies in the current child protection system, including several breaches of Children First guidelines, inadequate supervision of practices in the HSE and family services in a number of cases and the absence of a standardised method of assessing the needs of children and young people who come to the attention of social services. The report also exposed the need for specialist training for social workers to improve investigative skills and to assist in engaging with hard to reach families. It also highlighted the need to develop additional protocols for children who abscond from care and the very real need for after-care support as children make the transition to adulthood. I fully support the review panel’s recommendations. The reason I am raising this in the House is that report raises the question of whether we need greater scrutiny, which I feel we need. I am concerned that the report of the national review panel states its workload is virtually impossible to carry out owing to the number and breadth of inquiries it must instigate. Every one of those inquiries is a child death or serious incident. This is not just a pile of paper, each one represents a child. It has been reported that the panel was asked to review 51 cases, including 35 deaths, since its establishment in March 2010. It is imperative that the panel is adequately resourced to ensure the timely, proper and full investigation of these cases. Each and every childhood counts and key lessons can be learned from the reports, which will inform policy and child protection and welfare and prevent future child deaths. These lessons must be seized on. I call on the Leader to request the Government to entrust the receipt of these reports in full to the Joint Committee on Health and Children so that it will facilitate appropriate scrutiny of the child protection systems within the Oireachtas.
I support Senator O’Brien’s proposal to deal with motion No. 9 today. It has been widely reported that the report of the independent review group on child deaths will be published later today. I greet this report with profound sadness and with a sense of responsibility and shame I bear as a member of a society that has systemically failed to protect our most vulnerable children. I commend the dedicated work and the sensitivity with which the report’s authors met this agonising task and I sympathise with the family and friends of each of the children and young people documented in the report. Their stories have been told anonymously, but those who love them know who they are.
The report examines the death of 196 children and young adults, either in the care of the State or known to the State between the years 2000 and 2010. Some 112 of these died from non-natural causes, ranging from suicide to drug abuse. Each and every one of these was a child The review group was established in 2010 by the former Minister with responsibility for children, Barry Andrews, due to concern about the HSE’s inability to provide accurate figures on the number of deaths of children in State care. The reported findings seem to point to systemic failure within the HSE child protection system and documents many deaths that could and should have been prevented. The majority of children did not receive adequate child protection services. This is a damning report for all of us. We are all part of society and I see it as damning.
I have asked on several occasions over recent weeks, but now with urgency, for the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House to discuss this report and to set out her Department’s response. This is not day one of the reform process. This report has been with the Minister for several months. I have questions for the Minister that I hope the Leader will put. Will there be an independent investigation into several high profile deaths of children in the care of the HSE or known to the agency? Will the State put on a statutory basis a provision of care for children when they reach the age of 18? What are the plans for the new, much mooted child and family support agency? What are the plans to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution? All too often children have been moved to the bottom of the priority list. This report signals the need for a system through which we will act early and decisively to protect children. Every child must and should count. We cannot have different standards for children in care and children in families. I call for the Seanad to take the leading role in part of this reform.