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Tragic Twenty-seven children who were in care or known to care services lost lives last year

The accounts of the children they refer to offer a tragic snapshot of young people whose stories often don’t make the news

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Of the 27 children who died, four were in care at the time of their deaths

Of the 27 children who died, four were in care at the time of their deaths

Of the 27 children who died, four were in care at the time of their deaths

The deaths of 27 children or young people in care or known to care services were recorded last year, according to figures released to the Sunday World.

Of those 27, four were in care at the time of their deaths, three were in aftercare and 20 were known to social work services.

The highest proportion of deaths (16) were by natural causes, followed by suicide (seven), suspected drug overdose (one), accidental (one), suspected non-accidental injuries (one) and suspected homicide (one).

The figures, provided by Tusla, relate to deaths in 2021 notified by the agency to the National Review Panel (NRP), tasked by Tusla to review deaths of children in its care or known to it. The NRP's report for 2021 will be published later this year.

In 2020, the deaths of 27 children or young people in care or known to care services were recorded and in 2019 there were 22. The NRP reports on individual deaths of children in Tusla's care, or known to it, are published periodically on the agency's website.

The accounts of the children they refer to, always anonymised, offer a tragic snapshot into the lives, and sad outcomes, for a section of society whose stories often don't make the news.

Mary, a 16-year-old girl who died by suicide, did not get suitable care due to a "lack of appropriate placements".

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Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly

Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly

Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly

 

Ava (14), who was not offered therapeutic supports after disclosing sexual abuse, went missing and died "tragically".

These are just two of four reports on the deaths of children between 2016 and 2018.

"Those reports are very sad," Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly told the Sunday World.

"What I would argue is that you need to ensure that there are the right supports available at the right time for the children and that we are not simplistic about what is needed.

"There are some people who are brought up in care who become great parents.

"Then there are some children who have had tough childhoods, who have been in care and then they become parents themselves and they really may struggle with that.

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"They should get the exact support that they need, which might be quite intensive.

"You can't just say, we will support them for six months and then they will be fine, not at all. They may need support for a year and then a small break and then to come back."

It's been almost 10 years since a landmark report into deaths of children in State care, published in 2012, found "systematic failures" were resulting in the most vulnerable young people falling fatally through the cracks in child protection services.

The report, authored by Dr Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, was scathing of how young people were let down by the State, and called for "root and branch reform", which later led to Tusla being set up as a standalone child protection agency.

The NRP reports annually on the number of deaths in the care system, with figures relating to death by suicide that reflect wider societal trends. From 2010 to 2020, 236 children and young people in State care or known to its services have died, 56 of those by suicide.

Fifteen of the young people who died from suicide were in care or aftercare. The remaining 41 would have been known to child protection services for differing periods of time ranging from a week to a number of years.

The figure for deaths by suicide from 2010 to 2020, detailed in the latest NRP annual report published by Tusla last November, represents nearly a quarter of all notified deaths.

The age range was 12 to 22, the most prevalent between 15 and 16 with another high proportion between 17 and 18.

The NRP report said that many of the young people who died by suicide had been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and some had received a consistent service.

However, to be eligible for CAMHS, it was necessary for a young person to have a diagnosed treatable mental illness.

Suicidal ideation is considered to be a mental health problem but does not always qualify for CAMHS.

"With the HSE responsible for mental health and Tusla responsible for protection, a child from a well-functioning family, who is not neglected or abused, but is emotionally disturbed and putting themselves at risk of self-harm, often falls between the services," said Ms Connolly.

Situations where children and young people don't have a diagnosed mental health condition and therefore do not qualify for CAMHS service are leading to "gaps in care".

"Sometimes what can happen within the CAMHS services is that they will say a child doesn't have a mental health condition as such. That's when there is often gaps in providing the type of support that a young person needs," she added.

"If a child has a diagnosed mental health condition there is more of a route potentially to psychiatric care. But even then, as we know, there aren't sufficient places available and it can be very hard to get your child into a place."

Making sure children and young people in the care of the State have access to a consistent group of professionals is one of the ways the State can do better, said Ms Connolly.

"We need to ensure that people who are providing care for children in residential State care are the most experienced well-trained staff round.

"I recognise how hard a job this is and how committed people are. In a sense what we are asking people in residential care and staff in residential care is to take on a loco parentis role on behalf of the State. That's a major job.

"We should really be ensuring that they are really supported and really well trained and that they will stay. That's what children need.

"The children who have come into State care for several years and they have gone to residential care, they haven't had that consistency of really nurturing, concerned, able adults who can be there for them."

Figures also show that a significant number of children go missing from State care, a practice Ms Connolly said "indicates an expression of some underlying unmet need for a child".

There were more than 1,000 cases of children going missing from State care between 2018 and 2020. They ranged in age between 11 and 17.

Almost half involved children going missing from private residential care centres.

Tusla said the majority of cases involve children who are missing for less that 24 hours.

"When children go missing from care we do need to be really concerned," said Ms Connolly.

"The State is in loco parentis in relation to these children, so the State really has responsibility to think what is it that's happening for that child that is resulting in them going missing all the time and how can we provide the care that those children need to keep them safe?"

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