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Children's Ombudsman criticises application of 'in camera' rule on child cases

Emily Logan also said her office met with “resistance” when investigating children in care.

File photo of Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.
File photo of Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.
Image: Photocall Ireland

THE CHILDREN’S OMBUDSMAN has said that her office spent three years investigating one case involving a child in state care because of “resistance” in the system and the lack of access to information.

Emily Logan was speaking to RTÉ’s This Week in response to the publication of an independent report on the deaths of children in state care between 2000 and 2010. The report found that of 196 deaths of children known to State child protection services, 112 were attributed to “non natural causes”.

Speaking of her office’s investigation into one of the cases covered by the report, Logan said that she “couldn’t progress the investigation because of resistance” in the child care system.

She said that the in camera rule was given as one of the reasons to challenge her inquiry. The application of the rule “remains problematic” she said, adding that for as long as this is permitted, the childcare system “will remain as invisible” as it is now.

In 2007, Logan recommended the then-Minister for Health Mary Harney introduce a mechanism to review child deaths in the state. “What was interesting at that time, it was made very clear to me that my intervention was not that welcome,” she said. “The reason given at that time was that there was quite a reluctance and apprehension about introducing a mechanism that might be perceived to be apportioning blame to front line staff.”

Logan said it is important for child care cases to be switched from an adversarial setting like the courts, to an inquiry system “which functions around the child and family”.

An adversarial view is very expensive and “not meeting the needs of children”, and they do not consider the views of the children.

She also said that teachers play a crucial role in child safety “in terms of the early warning system”, saying that they recognise if the child is well cared for or being neglected. Education should be integrated into child health issues, she suggested.

The Ombudsman also said that her office had found that people at operational level in the HSE had been instructed by their union shop stewards not to fill out certain administrative forms. People at all levels of such an organisation must improve their communications at both operational and managerial levels, she added.

Following the report on deaths of children in state care, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that the government is committed to holding a stand-alone children’s referendum this autumn. Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said today that the wording of the referendum is being finalised.

Deaths of many children in care ‘may have been preventable’, report finds >

Standalone’ referendum on children’s rights to be held this autumn – Gilmore >

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