Jillian van Turnhout, Children’s Rights Alliance
Reaction to State Announcement of Independent Child Death Review Group
“The Children’s Rights Alliance today welcomes the State’s announcement to put in place a new independent Child Death Review Group to review the HSE’s investigations into the deaths of children while in State care, since 2000. This is a most welcome development, as there is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the State’s child protection and care systems.
“We fully endorse the appointment to the Group of Geoffrey Shannon, Child Law expert, and Norah Gibbons, Director of Advocacy with Barnardos and Chair of the Roscommon Inquiry. The decision to appoint independent representatives, including an international expert, will allay fears of a cover up.
“Dealing with past cases is of critical importance; however, the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews TD, must now prove his mettle by putting in place a robust mechanism to investigate, and learn from, any future child deaths. Since 2002, the Alliance has called for the establishment of an independent Child Death Review Committee, which would automatically investigate any unusual or suspicious child deaths, including all deaths of, and serious incidents involving, children in care and detention.
“Encouraging commitments were made in the Ryan Report Implementation Plan in relation to investigating child deaths, however the Alliance would go further. It is unacceptable that cases of child death in unusual circumstances do not trigger an automatic, independent and transparent inquiry. The Alliance urges the Minister to put in place a Child Death Review Committee to review future cases of unexpected, suspicious or preventable child deaths and make recommendations with the aim of reducing and eliminating such deaths.
“Statistics on preventable or unusual child deaths and the findings and learnings from inquiries are not systematically gathered and hence it is not possible to track and evaluate cases, establish trends and give clear recommendations on how such deaths could be prevented. Ultimately, information about the death of one child may lead to the prevention of another.
“A positive step has been taken by Government today, but it must not be a temporary step. The Minister should publicly commit to the immediate establishment of a Child Death Review Committee once a child dies in unusual circumstances or in State care. Comprising a multidisciplinary team of experts concerned with the well-being of children, the Committee should produce a timely report to highlight any failures or weaknesses in the child’s care and identify clear lines of accountability. The key purpose of such a Committee is not to put into the public domain identifying, private details about the child’s life or death, but to provide learning, ensure accountability and help avoid similar cases from happening in the future.”
Jillian van Turnhout
For further information, please contact:
Carys Thomas, Communications Director
Tel: (01) 662 9400 / 0877702845; Fax: (01) 662 9355
Notes to Editor:
- The Children’s Rights Alliance will issue a briefing note on Child Death Review Committees by 15 March.
- Different cases may be investigated through a Coroner’s inquiry, an internal HSE inquiry, a Garda investigation or an independent public inquiry. However, there is no mechanism to ensure implementation of recommendations from these inquiries, nor is there a mechanism to ensure that findings from internal investigations, such as those of the HSE, are shared with relevant bodies.
- The State must fulfil international and national legal obligations on this issue:
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - Article 6 - survival and development of the child.
- European Convention on Human Rights - Article 2(1) - right to be protected by the law and not to be deprived of life intentionally
- Child Care Act, 1991 - HSE has a responsibility to "identify children who are not receiving adequate care and protection”
- Children’s First Guidelines, 1999 – Under these, Case Management Reviews can occur in cases suspected or confirmed abuse involves death of a child or when the case of suspected or confirmed abuse involves serious injury of a child.
- Child Death Review models exist in other jurisdictions including New Zealand, Australia, Canada & US. Northern Ireland and Scotland are examining their introduction.