Irish children 'still failed by state'

Only a year since an official report revealed decades of abuse at Irish institutions, the murder of a boy under state care has again cast a spotlight on the country's ability to care for its vulnerable children.

Image caption Daniel McAnaspie had been in care since he was 10 years old

Judge Sean Ryan's report of last year exposed the scale of the physical and sexual abuse of children by priests, nuns and religious brothers over a period of 40 years.

The children had been sent to an austere network of industrial schools, reformatories and orphanages because of some petty crime they had committed, or because they came from so-called dysfunctional families - which often meant just having an unmarried mother.

This time the state stands accused of neglect and mismanagement, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 teenagers in the past 10 years. This stark reality was highlighted by the recent murder of 17-year-old Daniel McAnaspie, who was in care.

In February of this year the Dublin teenager went to a party with friends. A fight broke out and three months later Daniel's body was found in a drain about 60km (40 miles) from the Irish capital. He had been stabbed six times.

Most vulnerable

Daniel was taken into the care of the state when he was 10 years old. His father had died suddenly on Christmas Day, six years earlier, and his mother had turned to alcohol in her struggle to raise her six children alone. Her health deteriorated gradually, and by the time she died three years ago, all but one of her children had been taken into care.

Daniel was the most vulnerable. Unable to read or write, he desperately wanted a proper education and a permanent home. But his aunt Sabrina says he was failed by the health authorities who had responsibility for him.

"He wanted help and they just wouldn't give it," she says.

"He wanted a proper home [but] they just threw him around, place to place. We've lost Daniel because of these people and I blame these people. If they had've just listened to us… Daniel would be still here today."

Image caption Daniel McAnaspie was stabbed to death after going to a party

Many of those who have died in care have been teenagers who took too much heroin or who committed suicide.

The chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's, Fergus Finlay, knows of one young girl who he says is suicidal at the moment and cannot get the help she needs.

"I'm afraid Daniel McAnaspie is not alone, and if we don't get our act together we're going to see more of them," he warns.

He says that if these teenagers lived in a country like Canada, a plan would have been developed for their education and general development from an early age.

"They would have been monitored - both in and outside of school. That strategy simply doesn't exist in Ireland," he says.

His frustration is shared by social workers who work at the front line with these teenagers. For a recent investigation for RTE television, three of them spoke anonymously about the crisis that is faced by children in care.

One said: "If the ordinary Irish parents who care about their children saw what happened to the children in the system, they would be appalled, because everybody wants to protect their children, and we as a state didn't."

Long way to go

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for these young people. It refuses to speak publicly about individual cases. All it will say is that it is willing to learn from any past experience to ensure that mistakes are not repeated.

Its role in looking after vulnerable children is being challenged now like never before. It is being accused by families and campaigners of incompetence and a government appointed inquiry is currently investigating the deaths of these teenagers.

News of these deaths has shocked Ireland. It is a country still reeling from the horrific detail of the Ryan report, which chronicled pain and suffering from decades past. Now it must come to terms with a more current account of how it is failing to protect some of its most vulnerable children.

In recent months Prime Minister Brian Cowen told parliament that he wanted Ireland to be a model for how children are treated, but on the evidence we came across, it still has a long way to go.

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