Ahead of new HSE figures out today, the Children’s Rights Alliance, a coalition of over 90 NGOs working to secure the rights and needs of children in Ireland, today calls on the Government, to instruct the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to access and scrutinise the HSE child death records, in order to restore full public confidence in the State’s child protection system. The Alliance calls on the Taoiseach, as a matter of urgency, to use this little-known power, under the Statistics Act 1993, to make an Order requiring the CSO to collect statistics within the HSE to verify the number of child deaths while in State care, after leaving care and deaths of vulnerable children known to the HSE.
Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Alliance, comments: “The drip-feeding of figures adopted by the HSE over the past weeks has exposed its inadequate recording and monitoring system. The HSE’s inability to centrally record vital information on its own accord has beggared belief. Is it not now naïve of us to simply accept their hastily scrambled together figures? What we need is for the CSO to copper-fasten the HSE figures, so that we can all move on from this depressing state of affairs. It is now time for transparency and scrutiny to restore public confidence in the State’s child protection services. We believe CSO verification of HSE statistics is the only route left open to Government.”
Jillian van Turnhout adds: “We need to ensure we have a credible and comprehensive system to protect and care for children at risk. The Government needs to take its share of responsibility and allow for the vigorous scrutiny of these latest HSE statistics. Ultimately, Government needs to do all it can to ensure public confidence in a system that must be child-centred, learn lessons from tragedies that have occurred, and work to provide vulnerable children with the best support and care possible.”
Notes for Editor:
Notes to Editor:
1. For a copy of the Statistics Act 1993, go to: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1993/en/act/pub/0021/sec0026.html
2. Provisions under the Statistics Act 1993 include:
• Section 25: the Taoiseach may make an Order (Statutory Order/Statistical Order) requiring that a particular set of information and statistical data be collected.
• Section 26: the Director General of the Central Statistics Office, and any member of staff ("Officer of Statistics") may deliver a notice to any person or undertaking requiring that the information specified in Section 25 be delivered/made available.
• Section 27: persons and undertakings are required to make the information available to the CSO.
• Section 29: a CSO member of staff may enter any premises for the purposes of collecting statistical information.
• Section 30: the CSO Director General may require any public body to provide statistics to the CSO free of charge. Also under this, the CSO is allowed to collected medical records not publicly available with the permission of the Minister for Health.
• Section 26: any person who fails to provide information under Sections 26 and 27 shall be guilty of an offence.
3. Under HIQA Guidance, the HSE should review any death of:
• a child in care
• a child known to the HSE child protection system;
• young people (up to 21 years) who were in HSE care in the period immediately prior to their 18th birthday or were in receipt of aftercare services
• a child known to the HSE or a HSE funded service, where suspected or confirmed abuse involved the death of child.
4. Alliance commentary on HIQA Guidance and Child Death Review Panel
The Alliance welcomes the publication of HIQA’s Guidance and believes that they are a very positive development. There is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the State’s child protection and care system and this Guidance has the potential to help build such confidence. However, the Alliance has some concerns about the operation of the Guidance:
• Independence: The Alliance is concerned that the Child Death Review Panel is not fully independent. The Alliance calls for it to report directly to a nominated Oireachtas Committee and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
• Enforceability: The Alliance is concerned that the Guidance is not enforceable.
• Scope: The HIQA’s Guidance only applies to children that are within the care system or who have been involved with the HSE. The Guidance does not therefore apply to child deaths that occur outside the care system or HSE involvement, leaving a gap whereby other child deaths are not covered by this mechanism.
• Children in Detention: The Alliance notes that the Guidance is to be amended to reflect the Irish Youth Justice Services (IYJS) detention context. The Alliance interprets this to indicate that all children in detention are to be fully covered by the Guidance, and would therefore urge that this amended Guidance be made available as soon as possible.
• Building Expertise: Clarity is required as to whether the child death review panel or panel members would be a standing or an ad hoc group. The Alliance believes that a standing group is preferable as it would allow for the building up of valuable expertise.
• Prevention: There should be more emphasis on establishing trends and patterns, with the aim of preventing child deaths in the first place.
• Sensitivity: There should be more prominence given to the ethos of Committee, to include principles such as acknowledgement and sensitivity to a family’s grief, regardless of where culpability may lie.