Fears rate of child deaths in care higher than 200

THERE were fears last night that an estimate of 200 deaths of children in care in the past decade could be exceeded at the same time as an expert panel awaits files from the HSE.

The chief executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, said he now feared that the figure of 200 child deaths in state care could be even higher.

“That is deeply shocking, as is the fact that the review team has not been handed a single file,” Mr Finlay said.

Last night, the HSE said “it will be seeking to cooperate fully with the Independent Review Group established by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews.”

The hand-over of files to the review group needs to be conducted in a way that protects the rights of the children involved and does not create future legal difficulties.

“Given the sensitive and personal nature of the information contained in the files, the HSE must be assured that it will not be breaching the provisions of the Child Care Act, the Data Protection Act or any individual’s constitutional provisions,” it stated.

Details contained in the files relate to court proceedings which were held in camera, under the provision of the Child Care Act, the HSE said.

The child death review panel, co-chaired by Barnardos’ director of advocacy Norah Gibbons and child law expert Geoffrey Shannon, has not received one file on a death of a child in care from the HSE, more than two months after Minister for Children Barry Andrews established the panel.

A third chairperson has yet to be appointed, and the HSE yesterday admitted there were flaws in how information on vulnerable children was collated.

Last week, Aidan Waterstone of the HSE admitted that the HSE cannot say how many out-of-home children are currently in the state, due to the industrial relations row with members of the IMPACT union.

It is understood the HSE has raised the issue of the in-camera rule as a possible obstacle to the passing on of files regarding the death of children in care, although a number of internal inquiries have already been carried out by external personnel.

Speaking on Morning Ireland yesterday, HSE assistant director of children and family services, Phil Garland, said information was coming back from the 32 community care areas in the HSE system, but “some of those systems are paper-based systems. We are going back looking at staff who are no longer in the HSE or from their old former health boards to collate that information.”

He said the figure of 200 deaths in care in the past 10 years carried in the Sunday Business Post was “not a number I am aware of” and “speculation”.

As for the issue of the HSE having not provided one file to the child death review group, he said: “It is absolutely not acceptable that this delay is there.

“It is quite clear we have deficits in our system, it is quite clear we have inconsistencies in terms of how we do standardised processes.”

It is understood the panel wrote to the HSE in its first week after being appointed requesting files. Mr Garland said new systems were being implemented and he had written to the minister about the issue last week.

He is due to meet this Thursday with Mr Andrews, who has already expressed concern at the lack of progress regarding files being provided to the review group. Mr Garland said he was hopeful files would be given this week.

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