Western Trust apologises to Vicky after report finds systematic failings in care since she was ‘a little girl’
The ‘Looked After? A Formal Investigation into the Life of a Child in the care of the State’ report was published on Friday and focuses on the care of ‘Vicky’ – not her real name – who is now aged 21.
Delivering the findings of what is the first formal investigation carried out by her office, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People (NICCY) 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 report found the young woman was subject to ‘breaches of her rights due to systemic failings in her care’ and that there were ‘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 Western Trust said it will take time to consider the report in detail but said it clearly identifies serious issues of concern and must result in concerted action across all relevant sectors.
Tom Cassidy, Director of Women and Children’s Services with the Trust, said: “We would like to say sorry to Vicky and her family for the failings which were identified, this is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.
“Children’s services have developed significantly since 2001. Our multi-disciplinary workforce is now more aware of adverse childhood experiences and the potential impact on child development and attachment. However, this report clearly shows more work is needed.
“It is more important now than ever, that we as a Trust and the entire system in both Health and Social Care and Education sectors highlighted in the report takes on board the issues raised and implements the relevant learning and recommendations going forward. We will work closely with our service Commissioner, the SPPG, and the Department of Health as a priority to do this.
“This is simply not acceptable and we must work harder individually and collectively to make things better for people like Vicky.”
Ms. Yiasouma said: “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.
“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.”
Following the report’s publication, NICCY said it will formally monitor the implementation of its 45 recommendations, the majority of which aim to prevent the failings experienced by Vicky being repeated by highlighting areas where changes in practice are necessary.
The Children’s Commissioner said 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,” she stated.
Concluding, the Commissioner asserted “there must be no more Vickys”.