Abuse and State failings revealed in reports on deaths of young

CFA reports relate to seven deaths by suicide, one by drug overdose, five by natural causes

Short lives marred by abuse and neglect, alongside critical failings by State services, are revealed in reports into the deaths of children and young people in care, or known to care services.

Short lives marred by abuse and neglect, alongside critical failings by State services, are revealed in reports into the deaths of children and young people in care, or known to care services.

Short lives marred by abuse, trauma and neglect, alongside critical failings by State services there to protect them, are revealed in reports into the deaths of children and young people in care, or known to care services.

The 13 deaths, outlined in reports from the independent National Review Panel, occurred in the last two years.

The reports were commissioned by the Child and Family Agency (CFA), and relate to the deaths of seven children or young people who took their own lives, one who died of a drug overdose and five who died of natural causes.

Though they find none of the deaths occurred because of actions taken or not taken by the CFA, they find a critical lack of co-operation between services, over-stretched and under-resourced social work departments, under-resourced child and mental health services, lack of long-term planning and a lack of urgent intervention at critical points in some of the children’s lives.

The young people ranged in age from a few months old to 21 years of age at the time of their deaths. Individual reports are published about four children, including baby “Sarah”, who died at a few months old.

‘No direct link’

Though “no direct link” is found between her death of natural causes and interventions or lack thereof by social workers, there were “practice deficits” in the way reports on her family - and particularly her mother’s vulnerability - were handled.

Sarah’s family had been known to child protection services, and assessment before and after her birth “was superficial and lacked analysis, underestimating the impact of some significant factors”.

Among the “key learning” points from the case are that the impact on a parent of having grown up in care themselves, the impact of parental alcohol abuse and of domestic violence should be considered when assessing a child’s welfare.

An overview of five deaths, four of which were of children or young people who took their own lives and one who died of a drug overdose, found two had serious mental illness, one had misused drugs and alcohol, two had attempted self-harm and a fifth had special education needs.

Two had experienced bullying at school and two had witnessed domestic violence and drug abuse in the home.

“The quality of social work assessment varied form case to case and the impact that environmental factors had on the young people was not always fully explored. This resulted in missed opportunities for timely intervention on occasion.”

In two cases suspicions of child sex abuse were reported, and although the social work departments responded, “the reviewers were not satisfied that their assessments were sufficiently thorough or comprehensive”.

Adult and child mental health services were “centrally involved with four of the young people”, with access to them varying between areas.

‘Very unwell and agitated’

In one case, a young person described as “very unwell and agitated” and her carers spent three days in a hospital emergency department waiting for her to be admitted to a psychiatric bed.

Two were 18 when they died. There was “less than adequate” care in the handover from State care to aftercare in one case, and there was a “shortage of appropriate accommodation for young people who are leaving care and have mental health difficulties” causing “a lot of stress”.

Dr Helen Buckley, chair of the national review panel, said: “While [CFA] has put many reforms in place, it still faces challenges in meeting the demands placed on it. Importantly, as these reports demonstrate, [CFA] cannot provide a comprehensive child protection and welfare service without the co-operation of other services and organisations, particularly those in the disability and mental health sectors.”