An independent report into the deaths of nearly 200 children who were in state care between the years of 2000 and 2010 was published Wednesday. The harrowing finds now have many desperately calling for reform to childcare services programs in Ireland.
The Irish Times, who have published the entire report online, reports on the findings outlined in The Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group. Of the 196 deaths of children in state care between 2000 and 2010, a staggering 112 were classified as death by non-natural cause, such as suicide, drug overdose or road fatality.
Originally commissioned by former Fianna Fail minister Barry Andrews, the final report was written by Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy with Barnardos, and Geoffrey Shannon, a solicitor and specialist in child law. Together, they deemed reform necessary for the entire child services program and hope that several lessons have been learned as a result of the inquiry.
“At its core, the Child Death Review report signifies our societal failure to prioritise children, particularly those most vulnerable to significant harm. It has been said time and again that children have been voiceless in Ireland for far too long,” Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said on Wednesday, reports The Journal.
He added, “We need a system that is accountable, where everyone is responsible and where clear management structures support the very difficult work that social workers do.
“The most vulnerable children and young people in our society have been too far down our list of priorities for too long.”
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children added that “This failure was not in a bygone era but in the booming years of the Celtic Tiger where money was plentiful but change was not.”
The Irish Times reports that the main findings within the report concluded that children who died while in state care were not provided with adequate service, and that the general file-keeping for many of the cases were in “complete disarray” or were closed while the subject was still considered to be high-risk.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the findings were "deeply disturbing" and pledged to implement reforms to strengthen the child-protection system. She added that it was “totally unacceptable” that the state could not enumerate how many children had died while in state care prior to the commissioning of the Report.
However, while there are certainly damning factors included in the report, there are also instances of when employees went above and beyond the call of duty. Gordon Jeyes, HSE’s national director of Children and Family Services said, "There are undoubtedly cases of poor practice and systems failures illustrated in the report. There are also examples of staff members who went to great lengths, and beyond their professional duties, to support children.”
“The report is very clear that there were deficiencies in a number of services including the core role of Children and Family Services. We must address these deficiencies and learn from past mistakes,” added Jeyes.
At the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, “This is obviously an independent report, and I commend Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons for the clarity and the research and the analysis that they have carried out in respect of what is a harrowing tale and a litany of shame in many respects that’s happened here.”
Outlining her plans for reform, Frances Fitzgerald aims to strengthen the entitlement of children in care to aftercare services once they reach 18; establish a new child and family agency that will take responsibility for child protection away from the HSE; employ a nationwide consistency of approach in practice and implementation of guidelines over the handling of child welfare and protection cases; use standardised definitions, criteria and thresholds for reporting and referrals including prioritisation of cases; improve resource allocation responsive to changing needs; demand clearer management and budgetary accountability; and create better workforce planning, training and induction of new staff.