Watchdog urged to widen foster care abuse probe
A health watchdog was last night urged to investigate all foster care services in the country.
The call came after the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) revealed that it was carrying out a probe into 19 allegations, some believed to be sexual, made against foster carers in Dublin.
Four of the allegations relate to carers in Dublin north-west, while 15 involve carers in Dublin north-central.
The claims were uncovered during a review of fostering services in seven local health areas -- three in Dublin and four in Cork.
A total of 15 investigations into the allegations have been completed, but the final report into the seven areas will be completed in two months' time.
However, Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter insisted the review should be extended to the rest of the country. He said he was "disturbed" to learn of the HIQA investigation.
Mr Shatter added that he was aware of cases where allegations had been referred to the DPP. However he refused to say when this happened, how many cases were involved or which region was involved.
"I understand the DPP office received papers on allegations of children having been abused in foster care. They did not result in a prosecution," he said.
"But any allegation relating to children in foster care must be taken extremely seriously. I believe HIQA should extend its review of foster care services across the country."
A spokesman for HIQA last night said no new investigation was on the cards. But, refusing to rule out something of that nature in the future, he said the body did not need to be informed of specific concerns to conduct a probe.
"We are working on this current report with a view to publishing it within the next two months," he said. "In this instance specific concerns were brought to our attention.
"We will be looking at other areas, but not immediately," he added, cautioning that many of the allegations had to be examined for accuracy.
Labour senator Alex White insisted the HIQA investigation was further proof that the system was fundamentally dysfunctional.
"We are all rightly outraged by these dreadful developments, but if we are to genuinely address the fundamental deficiencies in the system, we need to do more than express righteous indignation," he said.
"The time for firefighting is over. What we now need is a root-and-branch evaluation of the care system."
Last night, childcare organisations expressed their concern at the investigation. Jillian van Turnhout, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said she was deeply disturbed by the reports.
She was joined by Deirdre McTeigue, director of the Irish Foster Care Association, who said she was "distressed" to hear of the alleged abuse in a foster family setting.
However, a spokesman for Children's Minister Barry Andrews last night said he had emphasised to the HSE the importance of ensuring that comprehensive plans were in place to address weaknesses identified by the HSE and HIQA in foster care.
Yesterday the office of the DPP and the HSE refused to comment on Mr Shatter's claims of files involving abuse being sent to the DPP.