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Urgent need for HSE to release files on children who died in care – Ó Caoláin

9 June, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Speaking on the Implementation of the Ryan Report in the Dáil this afternoon Sinn Féin Health and Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said the number of children who died in state care over the past decade makes it all the more important for the HSE to release the files on all of these children to the special investigation team established by the Minister of State for Children.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also said cutting social welfare, education and health services will condemn even more children.

He said:

“Yesterday the family and friends of Daniel McAnaspie laid him to rest. Three days earlier the Health Service Executive published its latest figures for the deaths of children known to the HSE child protection service. This brings to 188 the number of children who died in the past decade, either in State care or who were known to the social services. This is a truly shocking figure.

“Each and every one of those deaths was a tragedy. Some died of natural causes, some were suicides, drug overdoses, accidents or, as in the case of Daniel McAnaspie, unlawful killings.

“The latest figures make it all the more urgent that the HSE releases the files on all these children to the special investigation team established by the Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews. If legal obstacles really exist they should be removed as a matter of urgency. The Government cannot even tell us when it will publish legislation in this regard. It should publish in full its advice from the Attorney General.

“These figures come at a time when the Government is cutting back social welfare, education and health services in a way that hits marginalised families and vulnerable children worst. These are the essential supports which help address child poverty and neglect. Undermining these services through cuts will condemn more children.” ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s address follows:

Statements re Implementation of Ryan Report 8.6.10
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Sinn Féin Dáil leader & Spokesperson on Health & Children

We return to address the recommendations of the Ryan Report as the crisis in child protection in this State is being highlighted as never before. This is only right and it is long overdue. As I stated at the time of the publication of the Ryan Report last year, as well as dealing with the abuses of the past we need most urgently to address the protection of children today or else we will have further Ryan Reports, only this time they will deal with tragic failures to protect children of our own era.

Yesterday the family and friends of Daniel McAnaspie laid him to rest. Three days earlier the Health Service Executive published its latest figures for the deaths of children known to the HSE child protection service. This brings to 188 the number of children who died in the past decade, either in State care or who were known to the social services. This is a truly shocking figure.

Each and every one of those deaths was a tragedy. Some died of natural causes, some were suicides, drug overdoses, accidents or, as in the case of Daniel McAnaspie, unlawful killings.

We know about Daniel’s case because the information has come into the public domain. His family has been brave in speaking out. Not all families wish to do so and their right to confidentiality must be respected. But we need to know the circumstances and we need to know exactly if and how the State failed these children.

This much is certain. The death rate among children in State care and among children known to the social services is far higher than among the general population. These are the vulnerable children, the marginalised children, the children in poverty or at risk of poverty, the children who have not benefited from education, the children who have suffered abuse, the children who become prey to drug pushers and other vicious social predators.

Speaking at Daniel’s funeral Fr. Peter McVerry said that the boy had been neglected by the State and in that neglect we saw the failure of a dysfunctional and under-resourced child-care service. The Government should heed his words, especially his identification of the need not for 200 additional social workers but for 1,200. The Minister of State was quick to dismiss this but he should think again.

The latest figures make it all the more urgent that the HSE releases the files on all these children to the special investigation team established by the Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews. If legal obstacles really exist they should be removed as a matter of urgency. The Government cannot even tell us when it will publish legislation in this regard. It should publish in full its advice from the Attorney General.

These figures come at a time when the Government is cutting back social welfare, education and health services in a way that hits marginalised families and vulnerable children worst. These are the essential supports which help address child poverty and neglect. Undermining these services through cuts will condemn more children.
A few days before the figures were published the Tánaiste and Minister for Education announced the axing of librarian posts for school libraries in schools serving disadvantaged communities. How callous. How short-sighted. How shameful.
The Government must take heed of the view expressed by the Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan that the 'in camera' rule, where childcare proceedings are not held publicly, is often being disproportionately applied and hampering investigations and that any proposed legislative change should take account of this.

It is clear that there has long been a crisis of leadership and management at the highest level in child protection in this State when an investigation established by a Minister could be frustrated in this way by a State body supposedly under his authority, the HSE.

Turning now to the specific recommendations of the Ryan Report I want to highlight first the very last recommendation which states:

Children First: The National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children’ should be uniformly and consistently implemented throughout the State in dealing with allegations of abuse.

The recent Report of the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan concluded that the HSE, from its establishment in 2005 until 2009, made insufficient efforts to drive forward implementation of the ‘Children First’, child protection guidelines. Poor administration was uncovered across the HSE. Clearly this affects not only the process of identifying and protecting children at risk but also the system of care provision which has been repeatedly exposed as totally inadequate.

The Implementation Plan for the Recommendations of the Ryan Report published by the Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews in July 2009 made a series of commitments regarding Children First. These include:
the drafting of legislation by December 2010 to provide that all staff employed by the State and staff employed in agencies in receipt of funding from the Exchequer will have a duty to comply with the Children First national guidelines;

the development by HIQA of outcome-based standards for child protection services, also by December 2010;

the linking of compliance with Children First national guidelines will be linked to all relevant inspection processes across the education, health and justice sectors by December 2011.

Specifically regarding the uniform and consistent implementation of Children First throughout the State the Implementation Plan said this was ‘ongoing’. It is hard to square that with the Children’s Ombudsman Report or with the fact that key commitments in this regard are not due for delivery until December 2010 and December 2011.

If we go to the second last recommendation, what do we find?

The full personal records of children in care must be maintained. Reports, files and records essential to validate the child’s identity and their social, family and educational history must be retained. These records need to be kept secure and up to date. Details should be kept of all children who go missing from care. The privacy of such records must be respected.

It is clear from the current debacle regarding the deaths of children in care that this recommendation was very necessary. To what extent has it really been implemented, we must ask.

The big questions is why are this Government and the HSE constantly playing catch-up? Why does it take a seemingly endless series of exposés and and investigations and reports for them to begin to get things right? The latest example is the audit of more than 1,000 foster-care files by HIQA in the Dublin North West and Dublin North Central areas that has found well over 200 had placements with unapproved foster parents for significant periods or were without care plans.

It found that some children in State care have not had a visit from a social worker for up to 10 years or more. It found record-keeping so poor that inspectors have had difficulties establishing an accurate number for children in foster care, and many files were either incomplete, incorrectly recorded or missing. In some cases, items belonging to children had fallen out of files with no identification to attach to the file or child. Children as young as five were placed in supported lodgings, a more independent form of care designed for people in their mid to late teens.

The Report on the Monageer tragedy highlighted the vital need for out-of-hours social work crisis intervention service. The Implementation Plan said the HSE will put in place such a service, built into the existing HSE out-of-hours service and this would be piloted initially in two areas of the country. That is far too lax an approach and the provision of this vital service must be speeded up.

The Ryan Report made key recommendations on policy. It said that childcare policy should be child-centred, the needs of the child should be paramount and national childcare policy should be clearly articulated. The Report stated:

The overall policy of childcare should respect the rights and dignity of the child and have as its primary focus their safe care and welfare. Services should be tailored to the developmental, educational and health needs of the particular child. Adults entrusted with the care of children must prioritise the well-being and protection of those children above personal, professional or institutional loyalty.

The Implementation Plan is out of date now with regard to this recommendation because we have since had the report of the all-party Committee and its unanimous recommnedation of a wording for a consitutional amendment on children. This amendment would form a sound basis for all child care policy.

I take this opportunity to again urge the Government to make a firm commitment to hold the referendum to strengthen the rights of children in the Constitution this year.
Before concluding I want to reiterate an issue that I raised here on previous occasions and ask the Minister of State to respond specifically. 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 was done with the results we see so sadly today.

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