THE Health Service Executive (HSE) failed to register or give a formal identity to a baby born to a young girl in its care, and has yet to draw up guidelines to prevent similar lapses, a year after being told to do so.
On foot of an inspection of a children’s residential home in Dublin North West in March 2009, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) discovered that a young girl who fell pregnant while living in the home had given birth to the baby and cared for it in the home. Despite living under the HSE’s roof, the baby was not on its register, contrary to legal requirements.
The regulations require the HSE to keep one or more registers of particulars of children in residential care.
HIQA said the baby “did not have a formal identity within the HSE system until she was transferred to a foster placement”.
The HSE argued the baby was technically in care to her mother rather than the HSE, and that the placement was sustained in order to facilitate the bonding relationship between mother and child.
However, HIQA said the decision to let the infant stay in the unit meant it was “effectively admitting” the baby.
HIQA recommended the HSE nationally “should provide clear guidelines on the status and care of babies living in care, whether in statutory or non-statutory provision”. However the findings of a follow-up inspection by HIQA, published a year later, found the recommendation had not been met and that implementation was “ongoing until direction is given on a national level”.
A spokeswoman for HIQA said yesterday that the situation had appeared to improve on the ground. A recent inspection of another home where a baby was being cared for showed the baby was registered.
She said HIQA understood national guidelines could not be churned out overnight.
However, a second recommendation in the March 2009 report which sought an independent review of the circumstances in which the baby was taken into care after undergoing an emergency discharge from the HSE home – had also not been implemented.
The young woman was living in the centre when she became pregnant. The plan was that she would remain there until she had gained sufficient competence and confidence as a parent to transfer to a flat.
In autumn 2008 the arrangement deteriorated. Within the final 48 hours of the baby’s time in the centre, there were high levels of aggression and staff were concerned about the continued safe care of the baby. Gardaí were called and the baby was received into care under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. The baby was subsequently placed in foster care.
HIQA said the case raised concerns “generally about the care of young women and babies in residential centres designed to cater for adolescents”, and in the view of inspectors, “the care of the baby raises serious issues of safeguarding and identity”.
“As the baby was in the care of her mother while living in the centre she did not have an independent identity within the HSE system, and her name was not put on the centre’s register. The use of section 12, an emergency measure, in a residential care setting is also a matter of concern,” said inspectors.
They also said the HSE nationally should clarify its policy on babies being placed with their mothers in residential care.
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