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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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Children in Care

91 children known to HSE died in four years - one quarter by suicide

More than three quarters of these children were living with their families at the time.

MORE THAN ONE quarter of the 91 children known to HSE social work services who died in the last four and a half years died by suicide.

This figure was revealed by Helen Buckley, Chairperson of the National Review Panel for Tusla, the child and family agency, today after four reports were published into the deaths of children either in State care or known to services.

She said that since the panel was established in 2010, 12 children under the direct care of the State died, including a number of people who were assigned aftercare following their 18th birthday.


More than a quarter of the total number of children who were involved with social work services in some way died by suicide and three were in the care of the State at the time. Seven died of drug overdoses and three were killed by other people. Buckley said the majority of the children who died were living with their families.

In the case of one child, referred to in the reports as ‘Luke’, serious failings by HSE services were identified. In particular, it was noted that a court directed that he should have a psychiatric evaluation. However “no appropriate mental health services was available to conduct it”. The young man died of a drug overdose while in HSE aftercare.

Paul Harrison, Director of Policy and Strategy at Tusla, said today that the agency has entered into a joint protocol working arrangement with HSE mental health services for children and teens.

He said children are given priority based on their clinical need and not necessarily the fact that they are known to the agency. However he said child and adolescent psychiatry and psychological services “have to overlap because these affect the children we’re dealing with”.

‘Never say never’

Helen Buckley said some children are “hostile to formal services” and there is a need for them to be “immediately available and in a form that is acceptable to children”.

She said the fact that child and adolescent mental health services are under the remit of the HSE and not the child and family agency should not be a barrier “if proper bridges are built”.

Complicated pathways won’t work.

When asked if she believed the case of Luke, in which serious failings by HSE services were identified, could happen again, she replied: “I would never say never”.

“Because of the pressure on social work services, children who have low visibility who are neglected and are under he radar, may not be getting services they need, even though the structure has improved considerably,” she added.

Harrison said the key learning from the reports published today is that “good individual supports are not enough, without a coordinated, multi-agency approach”.

He said the agency is committed to reviewing previous failings and ensuring that “the legacy of those failings is a renewed determination not to fail future generations, future individuals”.


  • Samaritans 116 123 or email
  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email – (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

More from the reports on children in care:

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