Child deaths report to be published by Christmas

THE report into the deaths of children known to social services will be published before Christmas, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday.

The work of the Child Death Review Panel, comprising Child Law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Barnardos director of advocacy Norah Gibbons, is almost complete. It is understood the report could be submitted to Government by the end of next week. The report is understood to contain a number of shocking findings.

Speaking at the Family Resource Centre national Forum in Dublin yesterday, Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, said she expected to receive the report in the coming weeks and intended to publish it before Christmas.

She also said an audit into HSE child protection services would also be completed in a similar timeframe, while a transition group charged with looking at the establishment of the new Child and Family Support Agency should be reporting in the new year.

That would clear the way for a year-long transitory period with child protection being removed from the HSE and coming under the full auspices of the new agency by January 2013.

“In the meantime we will have an agency within an agency under Gordon Jeyes [HSE National Director for Children and Family Services],” she said.

The minister said she had concerns over gaps in child protection data and budget over-runs in the HSE.

The Child Death Review report deals with 196 cases of children who died. “We clearly will have to examine it very carefully and address whatever issues it identify as being key in those deaths,” she said.

Yesterday’s forum was held to launch the Family Resource Centre 2010 Annual Report, which found that FRCs around the country received almost 300,000 visits last year to use their facilities, with 33,000 visits by community groups.

More than 30,000 people took part in education, training and self-development courses offered by FRCs last year, while more than 20,000 counselling sessions were delivered — almost half of which involved relationship counselling. Almost 4,000 sessions dealt with bereavement counselling, while just over 3,000 sessions related to separation.

The Chairman of the Family Resource Centre National Forum, Packie Kelly, said the recession had meant more families around the country felt isolated, which in turn added to the importance of FRCs.

He said there had been a change in the clientele at FRCs, with more men and younger unemployed.

Concerns were expressed over the effects of budget cuts, and Minister Fitzgerald said: “We are in a very challenging economic environment, but I think everyone understands that.

“Very tough decisions will have to be taken.”

Key services

NOREEN Meagher knows the importance of Family Resource Centres and the services they provide.

The former bank employee from Cregane in Co Limerick is a board member of the Family Resource Centre (FRC), which itself has helped her deal with the loss of sight in both her eyes.

“I lost the sight in the first eye the last year I was in school and the following year the other eye [retina] detached,” she said. This meant a succession of operations in London. A blow from a hockey ball was the catalyst for her eyesight troubles, with the sight in the other eye fading over a long period of time. A mother-of-three, she was keen to retrain having left the civil service, so her local FRC in Hospital, Co Limerick, played a key role.

She now sees the centre “going from strength to strength”, with clients including those who have lost their sight.

“We have four people with visual impairment including a young mother with a young family,” she says.

“We had one girl in the group, and she never went outside the door. Now that girl has ECDL [European Computer Driving Licence], she is doing advanced FETAC, she is doing training supports. There are talents within the group that would never have materialised only for the level of awareness in the Resource Centre.”

She is concerned that support for schemes like the rural bus service will be cut in the budget.

“It is the uncertainty that is causing a lot of the problems out there,” she said. “The funding would be a big loss. We would have to see how we would manage.”

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