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Reports on deaths of children in state care must be published – Ó Caoláin

4 March, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Speaking in the Dáil today on the statements on the Death of Children in State Care since 2000, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Fein Dáil leader & spokesperson on Health & Children said:

“The admission by senior HSE Assistant National Director for Children and Families, Phil Garland, on Morning Ireland this morning, confirmed by HSE Director of Integrated Services, Laverne McGuinness, at the Public Accounts Committee today, that there are 20 reports on the deaths of children in State care awaiting publication can only be described as truly shocking.

“No valid excuse was offered for the delay in the publication of these reports. They should be issued without further delay. They should also be forwarded to the Ombudsman for Children, the Health Information and Quality Authority and the Garda Síochána.

“The identities of the children and their families can be protected if need be; they do not have to be published – what is most important is that the facts of the cases are known and that the lessons are learned and acted upon.

“In a Parliamentary Question dated 7th July 2009 I sought information on the number of unpublished or redacted reports conducted by the HSE or the former health boards. I have never received a comprehensive reply despite repeated follow-up questions to the Minister and the HSE. I have been told that the information was proving “difficult to collate”. Yet this morning a HSE spokesperson was able to go on the air and acknowledge 20 unpublished reports on the deaths of children in state care. Why has this information been withheld over all these months?

“The report on the tragic life and death of Tracey Fay in State care has caused huge concern about the lack of adequate child protection services in this society. This is not a new concern but has been pointed out repeatedly over many years, with thousands of children who are vulnerable and at risk still being denied access even to initial assessments of their plight.

“The Ryan Report on the abuse of children in institutions and the report on abuse on the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin exposed the widespread and systematic abuse of children up to about the end of the 1980s at the latest. But we need to focus on neglect and abuse in more recent times and, above all, to address the systematic failures that allow children to be victimised or neglected today in 2010. And that abuse and neglect has proved fatal in at least 20 cases, which is why we are having this debate here today.

“In 1990 the Comptroller and Auditor General carried out a review of Department of Education Special Schools which found that the children in those schools were not being accommodated in the particular institution appropriate to their needs, that the facilities were not being managed properly and that the Department of Education was not carrying out its overseeing role in a satisfactory manner. In 1992 the Public Accounts Committee, having considered the C&AG Report recommended that the Departments of Justice, Health and Education and the then Health Boards jointly address the problem of these special schools and address the problems of all children in residential care.

“These recommendations were not acted upon and the point is that the schools in question represented the end of the line for troubled children who ended up in court because behavioural and social and family problems were not properly addressed early on. That is still happening and the scandal is that it is happening along the pathway of so-called care supposedly provided by the State. The reports I have referred to were in the early 1990s. They were early alarm bells and alarm bells have rung periodically since then but precious little has been done.

“Last year the Ballydowd Centre in West Dublin was closed after a damning report from HIQA. That closure raised huge concern over child services in this State. The centre was only nine years in existence and cost €13 million to put in place yet it had to be closed because of its unsuitability for the troubled children held there.

“The HSE has presided over a facility in which, as HIQA has stated, there were ‘not enough staff to run the unit consistently and safely’. How could this have been allowed to go on?

“The HIQA National Children in Care Inspection Report, which included the report on Ballydowd, is a severe indictment of State failure to protect children. It highlights ‘serious deficits in standards aimed at safeguarding vulnerable children, including lapses in vetting procedures for staff and foster carers working with children’. These are issues that I and others have repeatedly raised in Questions to the Minister for Health & Children and at the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

“The woefully inadequate state of our child protection services has been exposed again today. There are insufficient social workers and other front-line workers and support systems in place. Children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required. The nightmare is happening every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the services are not put in place then the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the Church to cover up the abuse of children.

“The Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney who has ultimate responsibility, and the Minister for Children Barry Andrews who has direct responsibility, must explain in detail how children have been let down so often, and continue to be let down, by the State. They must act with urgency to bring the care of vulnerable children up to standard or else we will have more Ryan Reports in years to come, only this time they will cover the present era.

“The child protection crisis in this State requires a far more concerted and high level approach than that taken by the Government at present. A full range of child protection services need to be provided and resourced; the Children's Referendum should proceed; and the Taoiseach should use the opportunity of the Cabinet reshuffle to appoint a full Cabinet Minister for Children.” ENDS

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