The first ever review of abuse cases related to child death or serious injury in Northern Ireland will be launched at Queen's University today (24 January 2013). The review, Translating Learning into Action, was commissioned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and was carried out by researchers at Queen's University and the NSPCC.
The Case Management Review (CMR) report – the first to be produced in Northern Ireland - analysed 24 case reviews relating to 45 children which resulted in death or serious injury in the period between 2003 – 2008. While the rate of non-accidental child deaths in Northern Ireland continues to fall as a consequence of having a strong child protection system, the findings from the review offer important opportunities for strengthening the system.
Of the 24 cases reviewed, 18 dealt with the death of a child – four children who died as a result of a physical or sexual assault; six infants who died unexpectedly, for which there was no cause established; and eight young people who died by suicide or accident. The remaining six case reviews involved a range of issues, including the serious injury of a child, the standard of care of children by their carers, and how professionals worked together.
As of 31 March 2012, 2,127 children were listed on child protection registers in Northern Ireland, a decrease of 11% (274) from 2011 (2,401) but an increase of 18% (322) since 2007.
The report drew a number of conclusions:
As a result of the CMR review process public agencies have made a number of significant improvements in the way that children and their families are supported, including:
Minister of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr Edwin Poots MLA, said: "I welcome the publication of this report, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. It provides invaluable learnings for the protection and safeguarding of children here. This report, commissioned by my department, reflects my continued commitment to ensuring that messages are shared with all organisations and professionals who work with children on a daily basis and who can help keep them safe.
"The rate of non-accidental child deaths continues to fall. In my view, a strong child protection system has contributed positively to this reduction in numbers – and we owe it to future generations to continue to do what we do well, and to strengthen the system where it transpires we need to."
Principal Investigator, Dr John Devaney, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen's University, said: "This is the first time a review like this has been carried out in Northern Ireland. The overall aim has been to provide better safeguards for children by establishing the facts of the cases where children have died or been seriously injured, establishing whether lessons can be learned, identifying what those lessons are and how they can be acted upon."
"Most of the children in these reports were already known to Health and Social Care Trusts and were not considered to be at great risk of serious harm – they were like many families known to social services. Importantly, this research, carried out by Queen's and the NSPCC, has highlighted a number of key findings from individual case management reviews have already led to improvements in the systems and processes for supporting vulnerable families and protecting children at risk."
Dr Lisa Bunting from the NSPCC, said: "The very fact of Case Management Reviews, and the production of this report, signals a real commitment to continued improvement in an already robust child protection system. There is always more to be done, and lessons that can and should be learnt, and we welcome this opportunity to effect change.
"Examination of these cases revealed that a lack of sustained intervention with children and families was sometimes an issue. Although problems in the family had, in many cases, been evident for a number of years, agencies were sometimes particularly poor at addressing the impact of chronic neglect on children, and intervening at an early stage. We need to ensure that practitioners have access to a range of appropriate interventions and services which can prevent family problems from becoming entrenched."