Thursday 19 January 2017

Social worker jailed for €96k 'very serious fraud' which placed non-foster care children on 'at risk' register

Published 25/11/2016 | 15:00

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A SOCIAL worker whose €96,000 fraud left youngsters never in foster care on a HSE 'at risk' register was jailed for a year.

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Jennifer O’Driscoll (45) received a three year prison sentence with the final two years suspended as Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that the nature of her fraud was "very serious."

The court heard that youngsters who were never in care ended up on a HSE Children at Risk register as a consequence of the €96,000 theft.

Ms O'Driscoll deliberately overpaid unwitting foster carers, sometimes for children that were never in care, so she could then claim the excess money back from them in cash.

When some foster carers would offer to allow the over-payment to be deducted from their future HSE/Tusla payments, O'Driscoll insisted that the money had to be repaid in cash because another foster carer was already waiting for it.

Ms O'Driscoll of St John's Terrace, World's End, Kinsale, Co Cork pleaded guilty to 80 charges in relation to offences which left the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Tusla facing a €96,962 loss.

She had been given five months to raise compensation for the HSE.

Det Sgt Clodagh O’Sullivan said that Ms O'Driscoll was charged with 38 counts of theft and 42 counts of deception following an investigation into financial matters surrounding the operations of Tusla, the childcare agency, and the HSE.

The investigation found that Ms O'Driscoll's actions between May 29 2008 and January 1 2013 had left the HSE/Tusla facing a €96,000 loss.

The offences all related to the North Lee social work department in Blackpool, Cork.

Ms O'Driscoll would arrange for over-payments to be made to foster carers for children that weren't in their care.

Sometimes the payments involved children that were never in care.

Det Sgt O'Sullivan said the investigation later found that some children, who were never even in care, ended up listed on the HSE/Tusla Children at Risk register because of Ms O'Driscoll's actions.

A total of nine foster carers and 23 children were involved.

None were aware of what Ms O'Driscoll was doing.

She would then personally contact the foster carers, blame the over-payment on a staff error and then demand the repayment of the money in cash.

The investigation was launched as a consequence of an internal disciplinary matter within the HSE/Tusla.

Ms O'Driscoll, who has two children aged six and 16 years, has since been dismissed from her job as a social worker.

The High Court has also struck her off the register of social workers.

Sentencing was adjourned last June to allow the defendant further time to raise compensation.

Ms O'Driscoll has now paid €54,000 in compensation through the use of savings, the sale of cars and various loans.

Defence counsel, Sinead Behan BL, said her client was also committed to securing another job and continuing to make compensation payments to the State.

Ms O'Driscoll is now "deeply ashamed" of what she did.

But the court warned that it was "a very serious" matter and warranted a custodial sentence.

Ms O'Driscoll's fraud was described as "an elaborate web of deceit."

She received a three year prison term but the final two years were suspended in light of her plea, her remorse and her effects to raise compensation.

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