One child in HSE system dies every fortnight

More than 70 vulnerable children and teens either in HSE care or who recently left the system have died since the start of 2010 — the equivalent of almost one fatality every fortnight.

The shock situation is revealed in nine detailed HSE reports into Ireland’s childcare and social services, which underline repeated failures by the State to ensure the safety of at-risk children.

The documents catalogue a series of concerns such as inadequate staff levels, delays in addressing sex abuse claims, drug addiction, and missing files.

The independently chaired National Review Panel, which was set up at the request of the Health Information Quality Authority watchdog in 2010 after repeated social services scandals, said the HSE was not directly responsible for most deaths.

However, inaction over known problems is indirectly putting vulnerable children’s lives at risk.

The reports — which were released yesterday and include the 2011 and 2012 National Review Panel annual document, in addition to seven case files on children who died — show:

* 71 children, teens or young adults aged 18 to 21 who were either in the care of the HSE or had recently left the system died between Jan 2010 and Jun 2013;

* Last year’s fatality rate of 23 is the highest on record — up from 22 in 2010 and 15 in 2011. Provisional figures for the first half of this year show 11 more deaths occurred between January and June;

* The 2010-2012 deaths include eight children less than a year old; eight aged one-to-five years; three aged six to 10; 15 aged 11 to 16; and 24 aged 17 to 20;

* Among the causes of death were three homicides, including one last year; six drug overdoses, none of which occurred in 2012; and 16 suicides, including nine last year.

The majority of deaths (47) involved people “living at home and known to child protection services”, compared with six directly in the care of the HSE and seven in the aftercare system.

However, the reports specifically warn this does not mean service shortfalls were not in some way involved in the tragedies.

Among some of the most worrying issues linked to last year’s deaths were two “child sexual abuse allegations” which were not “satisfactorily” investigated.

While the review team said some progress is being made, it noted that “in one third of the published [individual case] reports, the social work departments were challenged in their capacity to deal with the pressure of work being referred to them”.

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