The social service system that failed to protect vulnerable young people who died in State care is still seriously under-staffed and under-funded, risking a repeat of the tragedies.
Senior officials from the Child and Family Agency admitted lives may still be at risk as it published its latest reports into deaths of children and young people known to social services.
The reports focus on the circumstances behind four deaths, including that of 19-year-old Danny Talbot, whose family has criticised the lack of help he received. The cases are among 91 such fatalities since an independent review examining the hidden scandal was set up four years ago.
However, despite listing reforms such as increased out-of-hours care and closer assessment of cases, the agency’s director of policy and strategy, Paul Harrison, admitted that problems still exist.
Speaking at the launch of the reports — which detail repeated HSE failures to act on warning signs — Mr Harrison said 9,000 children have no dedicated social worker “on any given day”.
He said while no recruitment ban exists, 160 service positions — including more than 80 social workers — are unfilled due to funding and administrative red-tape, placing “huge pressure” on staff.
“Are there enough [social worker] posts in the system? No,” he said, citing funding as a factor. “There’s no doubt there’s pressure on the front door. Since 2006, referrals have doubled, we now have 40,000 per year. Fortunately, we get most right, but that’s a massive pressure and does result in cases not receiving immediate attention.
“There could be 9,000 cases on any given day awaiting a designated social worker. It would be disingenuous to say there isn’t huge pressure.”
The latest reports focus on four cases, with a fifth due in the coming days.
They include a report on a child named ‘Luke’ — confirmed to be Danny Talbot by his family — who died in 2009, aged 19, after a drugs overdose while in social service after-care.
The report reveals “significant” record-keeping gaps, a failure to follow up sexual abuse concerns against him as a child, and a failure to adhere to a “psychiatric evaluation” court order as “no appropriate adolescent service was available”.
It also notes placing “Luke” in out-of-hours emergency accommodation in Dublin City while aged 15 “exposed” the teen — who died of an overdose four years later — “to a very hazardous environment”.
Another case involved an 18-month-old child who had been taken away from her home before being sent back without a dedicated social worker after her mother and partner were considered a “low priority” risk.
Reacting to the report on her nephew on RTÉ’s News at One, Donna Lamb said her family would be hauled “before a judge” if they gave the same level of care to Danny. She also said she is getting “calls from families ignored by the system”.
“We’re sick of hearing they fell through the cracks. If the professionals filled the gaps, there wouldn’t be cracks. We went from social workers, team leaders, acting child care managers, and still these concerns fell on deaf ears. How many more children have to die before lessons are learned?”
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