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Dublin: 20 °C Tuesday 4 August, 2020

Reviews detail tragic deaths of 'bubbly', 'charming' children

The HSE has published reports on the deaths of six children in care or known to the HSE.

Image: Stephan Hochhaus via Flickr

FIGURES PUBLISHED TODAY showed that 23 children died while in the care or known to the HSE last year.

The causes of death range from road traffic accidents to natural causes and nine children died by suicide.

The HSE has published reviews on the deaths of six children, outlining their problems, details of intervention and the support services offered to them.

Here are their stories.


Dara was described as a very pleasant, ‘lively’, ‘bubbly’ child who “loved life” but was “growing up too fast”. She loved animals, had at least one close friend and was friendly with her schoolmates.

Though she had never been in HSE care, her family was referred a number of times to the Children and Family Services over a nine year period.

These referrals related to concerns about her mother’s mental health, misuse of alcohol and allegations of domestic violence in the family.

During the three years prior to her death, referrals focused on Dara’s poor school attendance, her vulnerability due to mixing with an older age group, her consumption of alcohol and her self-harm.

Dara confessed to her family worker some weeks before her death that she was “frightened and didn’t know what was going to happen to her”.

She was frequently absent from school though staff encouraged her to come every day even if she was late and usually phoned her parents if she did not arrive in class in the morning.

The child was once admitted to hospital after drinking large amounts of beer and vodka. At the hospital she admitted she had been drinking heavily for the previous two weeks. She had fresh laceration marks on her arm and admitted to cutting herself recently.

In the weeks following this, both gardaí and social workers visited Dara’s home and engaged with her and her parents. The report refers to a number of situations in which the HSE met with opposition from the girl’s parents.

A social worker recorded that it was “highly likely that the children are very aware of the stress and tension in the household” and that it was “very difficult to address the issues when the family so adamantly denies them”.

She was said to have stopped drinking which both Dara and her mother attributed to her new boyfriend, who was thought to be much older than her. At a one-to-one session with a family worker she “presented in a positive mood but somewhat closed in her responses”.

Dara said she had broken up with her boyfriend and he had taken it badly. She was worried about him and said she had been drinking again but felt she was more in control.

A home visit was arranged for a week after this session but the HSE was informed of Dara’s death the night before the visit.


Dermot was a “friendly, pleasant” child, and “quite chatty at times”. He was one of a number of siblings  living with his mother. His father is believed to have played little part in his life. Dermot found it difficult to engage with formal services and difficult to talk about his emotions.

When he was in fifth class, his teachers became concerned about his poor attendance and behaviour. He was transferred to another school where he settlied in well initially but attendance again became an issue. He was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) when he was 11 but refused to attend the appointment.

Six months later he attempted suicide and was found by gardaí. Again he was referred to CAMHS but did not keep the appointment.

Social work files subsequently report that his behaviour improved for about two years but at 15 he was admitted to hospital accompanies by gardaí who had been called by a neighbour to say he was intoxicated, threatening self-harm and being physically abusive to his mother.

A psychiatric registrar diagnosed him as having a sever conduct disorder, with a background of attention deficit and hyperactive disorder.

The registrar linked Dermot’s suicidal ideation to alcohol use, the report said.

It was also noted that Dermot was grieving for a friend who had died by suicide three years previously; he tended to think about “following” his friend when he was under the influence of alcohol.

He had also lost another friend more recently in a road traffic accident.

After a further incident of self-harm, his mother refused to allow him to come home because of fear of harm he might do to himself, or to other members of the family and he went to live with his grandparents for a time.

Over the first three months of the following year, there were notifications from gardaí about Dermot’s aggressive, abusive and self destructive behaviour while intoxicated. He was once found after midnight in the street, intoxicated and not wearing any shirt or shoes.

He was arrested for breaching bail conditions and remanded in custody for four days, having previously appeared in court over other offences. When he was released on bail, he returned home and took his life the next evening.


Mathew suffered from a rare brain disorder. He was five-years-old when concerns for his welfare were first referred to the Social Work Department due to serious difficulties in the relationship between his parents.

Social work assessment found that the couple experience “a high level of conflict, aggression and significant levels of disagreement about Mathew’s medical treatment”.

Three months after he was referred, the little boy was admitted to hospital. Some issues arose around parental consent to various aspects of his care. The Social Work Department were  ”concerned that each parent was, in different ways, struggling to accept medical advice with regard to day-to-day management of their son’s condition”.

The department took the view that the HSE should assume responsibility for all aspects of decision-making about Mathew’s care and a care order was approved after consent from both parents.

A foster placement was considered difficult to manage given the level of disagreement between his parents and so an optional residential placement in a hospice-type setting was planned.

However the following month, the six-year-old passed away. A plan had been negotiated with his parents as to how to deal with the period before his death and a social worker helped them to enact this, allowing them to spend time with Mathew before his death.


Nathan was described as a sociable young person who was enthusiastic about sport, especially boxing and football. He was considered competent but at school was indifferent to study.

His parents separated when he was around six-years-old following a period of domestic violence. His father moved out of the country and subsequently died when Nathan was 13.

Though he was described as “popular and easygoing”, the report said his outward demeanour seemed to “mask some underlying troubles” and in 2008 he was referred to the Social Work Department.

He was prone to ‘eratic mood swings’ and there were suspicions that he was misusing drugs.

Attempts were made to link him and his family to services but while his mother and stepfather showed a willingness to engage, Nathan “tended to lose interest quickly and withdraw”.

Possible mental health issues were identified when he was first referred and again when he was found threatening suicide several months before his death.

People close to him said he was adept at minimising the seriousness of any difficulties he faced. One family member said “he was very, very good at literally just making you believe anything he said”.

A friend commented “you would have thought there was nothing in the world wrong with him”.

The report said it appears Nathan had confused and unresolved feelings about his father. It also said his ability to persuade people he did not need help as well as his reluctance to engage with professionals made it difficult to assess and priorities his needs, let alone address them.

A social worker had contact with Nathan and his mother and the teen attended addiction counselling for  a period of time.

At 15, he moved into the house of a friend’s family and his behaviour stabilised while he was living there.

After a visit to the UK to see his father’s grave, Nathan “made a suicidal gesture” at the house and had to be talked down by a passer-by. He told a social worker that his emotions got out of hand and his action was a result of being upset about visiting his father’s grave for the first time, having drunk alcohol and having had a row with his friends. He was not interested in a suicide prevention service offered to him.

The report said a few weeks later he went away for a few days and returned to a relative’s house where he was reported to have been in good spirits.

Some hours later he was found attempting to take his life and he subsequently died.


People who knew Robert described him as a likeable, funny and popular person and ‘a little charmer’. However it was noted that he found it hard to trust people.

His father died before he was born and his mother had a partner who lived with her and her other children for several years. Robert first came to the attention of the HSE because of an allegation that he had been sexually abused by a person known to his mother, though this allegation was not confirmed.

Two years later he came to the attention of the department because of alleged neglect and physical. abuse. Three years later he was admitted to the voluntary care of the HSE along with his siblings.

He was just over eleven at this point and told social workers of serious neglect and physical abuse. He also said he had witnessed severe domestic violence.

Robert began to abuse alcohol and drugs at 16 and lived in two different foster homes up until the age of 18. His social worker tried to get him to engage with different services and he was offered drug treatment but declined

He was offered aftercare by the HSE when he turned 18 and he made contact with a counselling service prior to taking his own life in 2010.

The review team said his suicide appears to be “pre-meditated” as he called a number of family members that morning and told one of them it was “time to go to sleep for good”.


Tom had been in care from an early age. Most people who knew him said he could be charming, witty and easy to get on with but was weighed down by a sense of not belonging.  He was an infant when an alleged episode of alcohol misuse by his parents and domestic abuse between them was reported.

As a result, he spend time in residential care and with relatives. He had no further contact with his father and his mother continued to “exhibit a chaotic lifestyle”.

A relative Tom was living with, and was very close to, died and he was “deeply upset”. Another family member came forward to care for Tom and his siblings. His mother had left the country by this stage and died while he was still quite young.

His second placement with his relative lasted until his mid teens and he had a number of short-term stays in residential units after it disrupted.

In his late childhood years concerns were expressed about his behaviour. His social worker referred to him as being “hyperactive, having a short attention span, taking cigarette lighters, having a fascination with fire and having problems controlling his anger”.

His foster mother also thought he may have been smoking hash.

An anonymous allegation was made during this time that Tom had been physically chastised on a number of occasions by his carers. This was confirmed by the boy when he spoke to his social worker. A child protection plan was to be developed by the review found no evidence that a plan was ever developed or put in place.

In his teenage years to age 18, he stayed with friends and family, following which he was placed in a number of different residential units on an emergency basis. The placements were proletariat and he frequently absconded.

He became more involved with substance abuse and in school engaged in verbal abuse, graffiti drawing and displaying overtly sexualised behaviours.

A risk assessment said he was “spiralling out of control and is unable to make positive choices for himself”.

Living in residential centres, his behaviour rapidly deteriorated and he was bullied by other residents. One day the manager of a centre reported he had carved his mother’s name into his arm and he started fires on six different occasions.

After he turned 18 he formally left care but his social worker remained involved with him. Over the following year, his girlfriend gave birth to a baby. He spend time in various different types of accommodation and staff noticed a rise in his poly drug use including heroin, crack, alcohol and cocaine.

He started to re-access aftercare services for a couple of weeks but some days after this he was found dead. A subsequent inquest concluded that his death was by misadventure.

The full reports from the review panels can be found here.


  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 90 or email

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634

  • Console 1800 201 890

  • Aware 1890 303 302

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Related: Nine children in care or known to HSE died by suicide last year>

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