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System designed to protect children did anything but

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on Thu, 06/28/2012 - 13:02
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The co-author of the harrowing report published last week on the deaths of almost 200 children in State care has said that he hopes the report’s legacy will be a referendum on the rights of the child.

Speaking to the Galway Independent, Salthill native Dr Geoffrey Shannon said that the report, which examined 196 child deaths from 2000 to 2010, highlighted that the system “designed to protect children did anything but that”.

One hundred and twelve child deaths examined by the Independent Child Death Review Group were found to have been the result of unnatural causes, including suicide and drug overdose, and Dr Shannon said that the report documents a child protection system that is “overwhelmingly inadequate and not fit for purpose”.

Highlighting the main issues that arose from the cases examined in the report, Adoption Authority Chairman Dr Shannon said that exclusion from school was a “major trigger” for deterioration in the life experiences of many children. 

“It sort of created a downward spiral so it just shows how hugely important it is that children remain within the school system and that we should redouble our efforts to ensure that children remain at school,” he said.

He added that there has also been a “deeply regrettable” failure within the health system to diagnose mental health issues at an early stage, which has a profound impact on children. 

The report also highlighted a lack of accountability and poor record keeping by health professionals and the need for greater links between child welfare and protection services and child and adolescent mental health services.

“In terms of where the system is broken…child psychiatry professionals seem to be involved with the less severe cases while inexperienced social workers are working unsupported with the most serious cases,” said Dr Shannon, who said that poor interagency cooperation and communication within the HSE has been the result of weak and passive management. 

The independent report, co-authored by Barnardos Director of Advocacy Norah Gibbons, also found that alcohol was very significant feature in many cases, and that there has been a failure to see this as a red flag issue. “There is a huge issue for Ireland as a society both in terms of the individuals and families and communities,” said Dr Shannon.

The report found that 68 children who died from unnatural causes from 2000 to 2010 were known to the HSE and Dr Shannon said that the failure to intervene in these cases shows a system that is entirely directed towards the concept of voluntary care.

While stressing that everything possible should be done to support families, Dr Shannon said the existing deference in the constitution to parental rights impeded the State in intervening and that when intervention arrived it “was too late to indicate the rights of the child to have his or her welfare secured”.

Highlighting that it is currently very difficult to adopt a child in long term foster care who was born to married parents, Dr Shannon said that many children get trapped in a ‘twilight zone’ between the family that cannot fully care for them and the family that cannot fully have them. However, he added, constitutional reform could give children a “second chance” to enjoy the stability of a loving family. 

Adding that his work on the report had a profound effect on him and that it is the most important project that he has ever or will ever undertake, Dr Shannon said he is hopeful that the proposals contained in it on reform of the child welfare system will be acted upon.

And he said that he has thus far been impressed with the response from the Government, which confirmed the day after the report was published last week that the long-awaited children’s rights referendum would take place in the autumn.

“I’m hoping that the legacy of this report will be a referendum on the rights of the child because, unless we enshrine in our fundamental law that children are people too, well I think we’re failing children,” he said.