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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Children in Care

Social workers were called after family refused treatment for ill son

The social work teams were commended for their handling of the case.

A NATIONAL REVIEW panel has praised the social services who worked on the case of a boy who died after his parents took him off a consultant-approved treatment plan for his illness.

One of four reports on the deaths of children in State care published today by the child and family agency Tusla details how John had a disability and a serious illness.

The child’s family withheld consent for continuation of the treatment recommended by his hospital consultant, opting instead for alternative and complementary medicine. John died in hospital from his illness and no inquest was held.

The family had never been in contact with social services, but when they disagreed with the consultant on the best course of treatment, authorities were contacted.

The report says:

Their refusal was regarded by the medical consultant to be endangering the child’s prospects of long term survival, in accordance with best practice protocol generally accepted in the developed world.

John’s parents believed in alternative and complementary medicine and were convinced that John was better served by this treatment which was more easily tolerated by him, particularly as he had a disability.

There was evidence to show that children with this disability are more sensitive to particular treatments and tolerate them less well than other children. The parents also questioned the diagnosis of John’s disease.

At the time of referral to HSE Child and Family Services John’s condition was relatively stable. The commencement of his recommended treatment had been delayed by five months at the time of referral.


The report says that there was a “fundamental disagreement” about John’s needs and outlines a lengthy chain of contacts between State agencies.

The social work department never considered taking John from his family, though the HSE says that it recommended conventional treatment.

The family agreed to recommence treatment, but failed to keep an appointment. It later transpired that one of the parents had taken the child from the country with the full support of the other.

The parent brought John back to Ireland, where he died in a children’s hospital some time later.


In summing up, the report extends sympathies to John’s parents and families and acknowledges that this was an emotionally charged case.

It finds that the social workers acted in a prompt manner and praises the child care manager for demonstrating a “strong commitment to John’s rights”.

The review has also found that despite the very difficult circumstances and the gulf that existed between the wishes of John’s parents and the opinion of the HSE and hospital professionals, the parties involved worked at all times to secure the cooperation of John’s parents and managed to develop and maintain a respectful working relationship.

It says that the HSE communication was “excellent” and says that “considerable efforts” were made by all parties to uphold John’s rights.

It calls for a strategy to be adopted in similar cases and suggests that the Child and Family Agency highlight the lack of regulation around alternative medicines with other agencies.

Read: ‘Little appreciation’ from State that Luke was at risk of harm while in care

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