The number of children and teenagers who died of unnatural causes while in the care of the HSE more than doubled last year.
Figures supplied under the Freedom of Information Act show that 16 young people died in 2012, up from six in 2011.
The chairwoman of the National Review Panel for Child Deaths and Serious Incidents, Helen Buckley, confirmed that half of the deaths were suicides and others deaths included road accidents and a drowning.
The data also shows there were seven natural deaths in 2012, two more than the previous year.
A total of 30,111 child welfare and protection reports were received by the HSE in 2012 — a 5% reduction of the 31,624 recorded in 2011.
These reports are made to local HSE child and family services duty social workers by members of the public or representatives of organisations who are concerned about the welfare of a child.
Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, said it was too early to interpret the rise in deaths, as the circumstances are not yet known.
“Unnatural deaths cover all the unfortunate incidents that happen to young people so it can simply be a series of accidents, it can be a drug issue, it can vary; so we will have to wait and get the information,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Figures relating to the deaths of children and young people under the care of the HSE have been reviewed since the publication of the Independent Child Death Review Group Report in 2012.
The report, which examined deaths between 2000 and 2010, was compiled by independent childcare consultant Norah Gibbons and the special rapporteur for child protection, Geoffrey Shannon.
Ms Gibbons said she believed the increase in deaths recorded last year may reflect the new system introduced since the publication of the report.
However, Sinn Féin spokesman on health and children, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, said he believes the increase in unnatural deaths is indicative of the need for reform within the child protection system.
“The figure for the major increase in reported unnatural deaths of children in HSE care from 2011 to 2012 is extremely worrying,” said Mr Ó Caoláin. “This demonstrates yet again the urgent need to press ahead with the establishment of the Child and Family Support Agency and, crucially, to provide the necessary resources to ensure that it can provide the appropriate care for vulnerable children.
“I have no doubt that the increase in child poverty and family poverty is a result of the recession and the futile austerity approach of the current Government is making more children vulnerable in our society.”
Tthere were 6,332 children and young people in the care system as of Dec 31, 2012 — a 3% increase on the 6,160 in the system in 2011.
The HSE claims the increase is in line with the rise in recent years and reflects the general population growth.
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