A Failed Child

27 January 2023 News

“I just want the right support” 

Persistent failings in the care of a young woman throughout her life must be addressed to ensure “that no other children have the same experience,” the NI Children’s Commissioner has said.

Front cover from NICCY's Looked After formal investigationDelivering the findings of the first formal investigation carried out by her office, Koulla Yiasouma, said:

“This report tells the story of ‘Vicky’ who, for most of the last six years has been deprived of her liberty. She has, since July 2018, been in England and says her dearest hope is that she can come back home and live close to her family who she loves.

“She is not a case and she is not number; she is a young woman whose life could and should have been very different.”

The ‘Looked After? A Formal Investigation into the Life of a Child in the care of the State’ report, published today, details an investigation into the experience of ‘Vicky’ (not her real name), who was subject to breaches of her rights due to systemic failings in her care.

It shines a light on significant and persistent failings of Vicky’s ‘legal parent’ – i.e. the Health and Social Care Trust – as well as other authorities, which have resulted in Vicky being placed in England for over four years, away from her family and community.

The Commissioner said: “When we were alerted to the fact that a child with a learning disability and mental health issues, who was in the care of the State, had been in the Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC) on remand for the best part of a year, I made the decision that we would formally investigate. I deployed the strongest powers my office has to understand how the situation arose and what, if any, breaches of her rights had occurred.”

“However, we did not anticipate the depth or consistency of failings of a little girl who is now a young woman of 21 years of age.”

“Like me you may, at times, be left speechless as to how, from the start of her life, the needs of this child – became one dimensional i.e. focused on accommodation –and continue to be so to this day.”

The report identifies breaches of Vicky’s Rights and sets out NICCY’s adverse findings at every stage of her life, including the failure by relevant authorities (particularly her Corporate Parent – the Western Health & Social Care Trust) to support her foster mother, to understand Vicky’s views and wishes, to develop bespoke care and living arrangements for her and provide adequate SEN support.  

“I am a proud social worker and I want to be clear that this was not a failure of social work. Rather, this investigation outlines the systemic failure of the children’s social care system in Northern Ireland which, in this case, valued processes over substance,” Koulla said.

“A system which endeavoured to tick boxes in the most perfunctory way without seeking to understand the impact of its actions or inactions on the child.

“I am deeply ashamed of what the children’s social care system became during the care of Vicky – paying scant attention to the protection of her rights or best interests.

“I am also reminded that a system is developed and run by people – politicians, civil servants, social work leaders, managers and others – it is a product of us all and we must each reflect on that.

“We also identified significant issues that must be addressed by the Education Authority, RQIA and Youth Justice Agency.”

Following its publication, NICCY will formally monitor the implementation of the 45 recommendations in the report. The majority of the recommendations aim to prevent the failings experienced by Vicky being repeated by highlighting areas where changes in practice are necessary.

Vicky’s continued placement in a medium secure hospital in England is a cause of deep concern for NICCY and distress for Vicky and her family. The report makes clear recommendations that a plan must be developed as a matter of urgency putting in place appropriate services and support to enable her return home. 

“This been a long process and we have been pleased at the level of co-operation from all the relevant authorities and the respect that they have given my Office and this investigation.”

“I am also reassured by the level of acceptance by the relevant authorities regarding the adverse findings. However, ultimately the test will be on their commitment and effort to meaningfully implement the recommendations to address the systemic failings and avoid repetition of same.”

“Finally, to Vicky – I am very sorry that you have been let down so badly by the services who had a responsibility to look after you and meet your needs properly.”

“By letting us share your story you are helping make sure that other children do not go through the same things you did and NICCY will stay by your side for as long as you need them.”

Concluding, the Commissioner asserted “there must be no more Vickys”.


Notes to Editors

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