The €18m figure covers all legal costs involving childcare cases in which the HSE has an involvement, but also includes the Guardian Ad Litem service, essentially an independent guardian appointed by the court to represent their best interests in proceedings.
However, the size of the bill is such that the HSE’s national director of children and family services, Gordon Jeyes, has said it could be reduced and the money instead diverted to frontline services.
The same point has been made by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, co-author of the recent National Review Panel report into deaths of children known to care services.
At the launch of that report, Dr Shannon urged a change in the way the courts deal with child cases.
In recent weeks, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has also outlined plans to overhaul the family law system, in a bid to make it less adversarial.
Speaking at the launch of the Children At Risk in Ireland (CARI) annual report yesterday, Mr Jeyes said the legal bill had increased over the years due to “a crisis of credibility” elsewhere in the child protection system.
“We have got a situation where legal argument is enjoyed and approached in an adversarial manner when it is not adversarial [and] there is no right and wrong,” he said.
Mr Jeyes, who will lead the new Child and Family Support Agency (CFSA) when it begins operating next year, said the legal costs were “a major area of significance” and court procedures were sometimes involved “to an unnecessary and unhelpful extent.”
The figure of €18m is a considerable chunk of its overall legal expenditure.
Meanwhile, in the minor’s list at the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan heard that the Guardian Ad Litem in the case of a teenage boy in care was seriously concerned he had been told he could not get a neurological assessment until December.
The HSE told the court it was trying to source a private assessment and had inquired about appointments at the Blackrock Clinic and the Beacon clinic.