‘Devastating and disturbing’

State faces legal action over damning HSE report

The State could be hit with more legal actions following the publication of a “deeply disturbing” report into the deaths of 196 children and young people in care which found some of the deaths may have been preventable.

Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, said what the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group had uncovered was “a disgrace” and was clear evidence of the need for “an utterly reformed system of state care and intervention”.

Ms Fitzgerald expressed “profound regret” on the State’s behalf for the suffering of those featured in the report and pledged a range of actions aimed at overhauling child and family services.

The report found examples of good practice in some cases but highlighted shocking failings in many others, ranging from incomplete records and inappropriate and multiple placements to a lack of aftercare provision and no social workers being allocated.

It also pointed to devastating examples of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse in the home, and undiagnosed mental health and behavioural difficulties, often unaddressed by care services or dealt with in an insufficient way.

The report, compiled by Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, makes a number of recommendations, including the setting up of an emergency response unit in the department to deal with emerging issues and the establishment of an independent child death review unit.

Mr Shannon called the report a “devastating indictment” of the child protection system. A number of legal actions are already under way and more are expected following the publication of the unredacted, anonymised report.

The HSE national director of child and family services, Gordon Jeyes, said disciplinary action had been taken in recent years against staff for failures in child protection cases but not in all cases, though it should have. He could not say if anybody had lost their job as a result of disciplinary action.

In at least five cases the review group recommends fresh inquiries into the circumstances of care provided, among them the case of Daniel McAnaspie, a 17-year-old killed having absconded from care in 2010.

His sister, Cathríona McAnaspie, last night said a full inquiry “must be implemented as soon as possible”, adding that the best way to avoid similar mistakes in the future was “to put into operation all of the recommendations of the review group as quickly as possible”.

Ms Fitzgerald said she would discuss with Mr Jeyes the best way to review the cases, with that process expected to conclude shortly.

In another case previously in the public domain — that of Sharon Grace and her two children, Mikahla and Abby, who all died in a drowning in Wexford in 2005 — the report states that the issue of no out-of-hours service having been available was still the same six years later.

Reacting to the report, child welfare groups said its recommendations needed to be implemented as a priority, while Ineke Durville of the Irish Association of Social Workers said the current system was still operating with insufficient staff and resources. “We are talking about a chronic history here,” she said, adding that Ireland was still suffering “legacy issues” of curtailed resources during the past decade.

Sad stories

* When this child’s mother was pregnant, the HSE noted the crowded and unsuitable conditions in which the baby was being born. By the time he was four his father had died of a drug overdose. His mother had a drink problem but somehow his social-work file was closed when he was six. By the age of nine school principals were warning of the dangers faced by the child. When he was 10, it was decided a full care order should be granted but it took three more years before this happened...

* This boy came from a large family who were known as violent and chaotic. Drug and alcohol abuse was rife in the home. He was eventually put into state care aged four but was inexplicably returned to his family after 15 months. The family were given support but there was no evidence this made any difference to their parenting. A few months before he died, a social worker warned of violence in the home but this wasn’t followed up for six months...

* A pattern of severe domestic violence and alcohol addiction meant this young boy’s family moved abroad at an early stage. By the time he was nine, he’d been in nine different schools. He was in care at one point and had been diagnosed as dyslexic. By the age of 10, he was deemed out of control...

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