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Ministers Ignorant about Child Deaths

May 29, 2010 permalink

How many children died in state care? In Ireland, and probably everywhere else, the higher-ups responsible for administering the child care system have no idea.

Fixcas to the rescue! Our own list of deaths in foster care, drawn mostly from the press, shows eight deaths in foster care in Ireland over the past five years. Based on statistical arguments nineteen out of every 20 deaths in foster care never make it into the press. So our best guess of the real number of foster deaths in the last five years in Ireland is 160.



Extent of crisis in child protection exposed

An Phoblacht cover

The full extent of the crisis in child protection in the 26 Counties was exposed with two startling admissions this week. The Health Service Executive (HSE) admitted that they are still unaware of the number of children who have died in State care over the past five years and Children’s Minister Barry Andrews admitted that the HSE is refusing to hand over files on these children to the investigation team that he established. The government says it will now rush through legislation to allow the HSE to hand over its files to the government inquiry.

The Assistant Director of Children and Family Services in the HSE, Phil Garland, stated on RTÉ’s ‘Morning Ireland’ on Monday that the HSE does not yet know the numbers of children who have died in their care, despite the fact that they have been searching for this information since the start of the year. The HSE had already offered the Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews and the public the estimate of 23 children who died, the murder of Daniel McAnaspie bringing that figure to 24.

There was speculation at the weekend that the figure may be far higher than that, up to 200.

Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said disclosure from the HSE on the deaths of all these children, including details of the services provided to them, or which the HSE failed to provide, is essential:

“The recent Children’s Ombudsman Report 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.”

Then on Monday evening the HSE file on the late Daniel McAnaspie was released to RTÉ, apparently from Garda sources. Interviewed on RTÉ News, Minister of State Andrews admitted that the files on children’s deaths were being withheld by the HSE from the special investigation team the Minister had established earlier this year. The HSE is refusing to share the files on legal grounds.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the situation “a crisis of leadership” and called on the Taoiseach Brian Cowen to intervene directly:

“The litany of neglect in the Daniel McAnaspie case is truly shocking and lessons must be learned and implemented without delay.

“While the file could be made public in this way, Minister of State for Children, Barry Andrews, has admitted that the HSE is refusing to release files on the deaths of children in their care to the Minister’s investigation team. This is intolerable and the files should be released immediately to what is a confidential investigation.

“There is clearly a crisis of leadership and management at the highest level in child protection in this State when an investigation established by a Minister can be frustrated in this way by a State body supposedly under his authority. The senior Minister for Health & Children, Mary Harney, has remained silent on this scandal.

“The Taoiseach needs to re-establish ministerial authority and democratic accountability for the delivery of public health and social services.”

These developments came in the wake of the Fianna Fáil/Green Government voting down last week’s joint Sinn Féin/Labour Dáil motion calling for the referendum on children’s rights to go ahead in 2010.

Speaking in the Dáil debate, Sinn Féin Louth TD Arthur Morgan pointed out that the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan had stated that it was her personal view that the referendum on children’s rights was very important and should be a stand-alone referendum, not held on the same day as by-elections. Morgan said:

“I welcome that statement and I hope it is more than a personal view, that it is shared by her Government colleagues. We will not press for the by-elections to be held on the same day as the referendum. The referendum should have a clear run. All the issues need to be clearly explained and properly debated. There is no good reason why that should not happen this year.”

Highlighting the situation in North Kerry, Martin Ferris TD said:

“In my constituency I receive regular representations from the families of children, and from those charged with looking after them, concerning the impact of the current austerity measures on child care and educational facilities. These range from the ongoing unacceptable conditions that children in schools such as Scoil Eoin in Tralee and Blennerville national school have to endure, in buildings that are overcrowded, poorly kept and in urgent need of repair.

“What kind of state allows children with autism in my county to go undiagnosed for up to a year because of a shortfall of staff? What kind of government allows children with psychiatric problems to go as long as four years before being assessed? Does anyone on the Government benches find it acceptable that children in Kerry with serious mental health problems are put on regular hospital wards because there is nowhere else for them to go?”

Concluding the debate for Sinn Féin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh made a final appeal to the Government:

“The Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, yesterday and the Taoiseach again today tried to excuse the lack of a firm Government commitment to holding a referendum. Their excuse was that the report of the joint committee was being examined by 15 Departments and the Attorney General. It is another delay. Deputy Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach when those Departments and the Attorney General received the report. He did not receive a clear answer but if they received it in February when it was published, they should have had adequate time to examine it. The time is up for the Government to examine the reports. It knew what was in them and it was part of the consultation and committee. The referendum needs to be held now.”

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan, Martin Ferris and Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan, Martin Ferris and Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Source: An Phoblacht

Addendum: The HSE has admitted to 37 child deaths in ten years, a number low enough to strain credulity. Until names of the deceased are published, the numbers cannot be believed.



Finally, HSE admits 37 children died in its care

Five children in the care of the State committed suicide and five died from drug-related causes, it has emerged.

The HSE has now admitted that 37 children died in its care over the past decade

Further revelations will follow next week when the State body releases additional figures on those who died while in after-care programmes, as well as homeless children. It finally released figures yesterday revealing the number of children it said died in its care over the past decade, ten weeks after clarification was sought from the Children's Minister Barry Andrews.

However, the numbers included only those who were in the full-time care of the State.

The HSE figures showed that five children died by suicide, five were drug related, two were unlawful killings, three died in road traffic accidents and three died in other accidents. And an additional 19 died from natural causes, including cancer and surgical complications.

Mr Andrews said information about children who die in care must be available in a timely fashion in the future.


He said that he wrote to the HSE in March asking that the information previously presented to him in respect of children who had died in State care be verified. "It is regrettable that it has taken the HSE some 10 weeks to establish a final figure," he said.

However the HSE's Professor Brendan Drumm said that the 10-week delay in collating the figures was because the minister sought figures on the deaths of children who had come into contact with social workers at any stage.

Meanwhile, the HSE has appointed a rank outsider to replace Prof Drumm as head of the health service, and has given him a salary €100,000 higher than planned. The appointment of Cathal Magee as the new HSE chief executive for a five-year term was announced after an HSE board meeting.

Mr Magee (56) left Eircom in February after 15 years.

The HSE confirmed he would be paid a salary of €322,000, but will not be entitled to a performance-related bonus.

Source: Evening Herald

Addendum: In a week the number of dead children has expanded to 188.



Government accused of showing no urgency on child death legislation

Children’s groups have expressed grave concern that emergency legislation said to be needed to facilitate the review into child deaths will not be drafted before the summer.

Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos, accused the government of showing ‘‘no urgency on the matter. To the best of my knowledge no legislation has been drafted," he said.

Jillian van Turnhout, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, a coalition of over 90 children’s organisations, called on Minister for Children Barry Andrews to tell the public when the review group would be allowed to begin its work.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) claimed existing legislation prevented it from handing over files on some 188 children who died under its watch to the independent review group that was established in March. Many, including Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, have disputed that claim.

Finlay said that the review panel, which comprises barrister and childcare expert Geoffrey Shannon and Barnardos’ director of advocacy, Norah Gibbons, could easily be given the same powers as the Ombudsman for Children in order to allow full access to files.

Finlay accused the HSE of handling itself ‘‘appallingly badly."

‘‘When people said 200 children had died under the care of the state, they were accused of being hysterical.

The HSE did everything in its power to diminish the figure, instead of admitting there were fundamental flaws in the system."

This followed a report in The Sunday Business Post on May 23 that up to 200 children had died under the care of the state.

Finlay said HSE chief Brendan Drumm subsequently inferred that some of the HSE’s confusion over figures was due to the fact that new definitions of ‘in care’ had been applied by the review group. ‘‘That was simply incorrect, and the HSE has since clarified that," he said.

In its statement last Friday, the HSE acknowledged that ‘‘neither the minister nor the independent review group in any way changed their request to us or added to the definitions/ categories being applied’’.

The HSE stated 188 children had died in its care - with 102 of those dying from unnatural causes. It said it had child protection concerns in relation to some 20,000 children over the past ten years.

Bernard Gloster, a senior HSE official involved in collating the figures, said analysis had suggested Ireland was not ‘‘out of the ordinary’’ with Britain and the US. Finlay said the figure was ‘‘staggering’’. He and Van Turnhout dismissed claims that Ireland compared favourably with other jurisdictions.

‘‘I do not know on what basis the HSE is making these statements given that they have never audited their own figures before now, never mind anyone else’s," she said.

A senior HSE official will appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week to explain major inconsistencies in figures on deaths in care provided to the committee.

Deputy Sean Fleming, who sits on the committee, said he did not believe the HSE deliberately misled the committee.

Source: Business Post