Staff face charges for failing children in care

Care workers and HSE staff who “blatantly” failed vulnerable young children under their care could face criminal charges.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the involvement of the gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions could be considered following the publication of a damning report into the deaths of 196 children from 2000 to 2010.

Ms Fitzgerald was responding to calls from party colleague and TD Denis Naughten, who demanded tough action against staff who “blatantly did not do their job” and “in some cases... deliberately misrepresented the situation to reduce their own workload”.

“If that is the case we should be looking at files being sent to the gardaí and on to the DPP.”

Mr Naughten was speaking at a meeting of the joint Oireachtas health committee which also heard more detail on government plans to overhaul child and family services in light of the report. It came as the Government confirmed the referendum on the rights of the child would be a standalone ballot in the autumn.

The report, its authors, and the minister have stressed the good practice in some of the cases and the efforts gone to by many frontline staff in helping children and young people who subsequently died.

But Mr Naughten said “a small minority” of cases may include examples of gross misconduct.

Ms Fitzgerald said people needed to distinguish between cases where the professionals with a very heavy workload had spread themselves too thinly and those who had displayed gross misconduct.

“There is no reason why normal disciplinary procedures cannot be in place and they are in place,” she said.

“That [Garda investigation] remains a potential [option], if that is the appropriate thing to do.”

When the report, compiled by Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, was published, the HSE’s national director of child and family services, Gordon Jeyes, said some disciplinary action was underway, but he was unable to say if anybody had lost their job.

He said some of those involved may have moved on, given that many of the cases dated from a number of years ago.

Similarly, the report by the Independent Child Death Review Group (ICDRG) was based primarily on the files related to each case. No staff member was questioned and therefore it would require reviews of certain cases and more evidence gathering before gross misconduct could be proven.

Ms Fitzgerald said yesterday she would discuss with Mr Jeyes the best way to review some cases, as called for by the ICDRG.

Ineke Durville of the Irish Association of Social Workers said any new review of cases would need to establish there was a “willful act”, rather than just issues of professional competency.

The minister’s task force, charged with looking at how the new Child and Family Support Agency will operate once it starts work next January, will deliver its report next month.

Jim Breslin, secretary general of the department, said the new agency would be child- and family-centred.

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