Thursday 23 November 2017

Abuse survivor Grace gets €6m after 'scandalous' failures by the State

The judge paid warm tribute to two social workers who were the “catalyst for change”, and also praised the lawyers who acted for her. (Stock photo)
The judge paid warm tribute to two social workers who were the “catalyst for change”, and also praised the lawyers who acted for her. (Stock photo)

Tim Healy

A €6.3m HSE-funded settlement package for the woman with serious intellectual disabilities known as 'Grace' includes punitive damages for the serious failings in her care.

The package was approved by the president of the High Court for the "literally voiceless" woman who was entrusted to HSE care as a young child until aged in her early 30s.

Grace was placed with a foster family in the south-east in 1989.

A health board decision was made in 1996 that she and other children be removed, following an allegation a child was sexually abused.

But despite evidence of physical abuse and neglect of Grace as well as suggestions of sexual abuse, she was left there for another 13 years, until 2009.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said Grace's treatment over 20 years was "not just shocking, but a scandal", particularly as it continued into the 21st Century, and involved "abdication" of responsibility by the relevant health board and State agencies.

It remains a "mystery" why the decision to remove her, against which the foster family made representations to the health minister, was not acted upon and was later reversed by a three person health board committee, the judge said.

Were it not that a commission of investigation has been set up, he would have insisted on answers to many questions, including what "extraordinary" hold the foster family had over the health board committee.

He hoped the commission would "get to the bottom of this".

When removed in 2009 from the foster family, Grace "cut a sad figure" in a "wretched" state, frail, dirty and unkempt, with health problems due to a poor diet and psychosis.

Her only possession was a child's toy which she held on to "for dear life" and to which she still clings - but her condition has greatly improved since, he was pleased to note.

The judge paid warm tribute to two social workers who were the "catalyst for change", and also praised the lawyers who acted for her.

He was approving the €6.3m package as the settlement of a legal action brought against the HSE on behalf of Grace, now a ward of court.

While money was no compensation for what Grace suffered, it was "the best the law can do" and would ensure she is properly looked after into the future, he said.

It was about trying to right the wrongs done to her while in the care of a State agency.

The funds will be paid into court and the package provides that Grace will retain her medical card, get funds equivalent to her lost disability allowance and be appropriately housed and receive all necessary therapies and supports. The future care costs are estimated at €4.3m.

Given the HSE's handling of Grace's care in the past, the judge sought, and got, sworn undertakings from a HSE official in court it would abide by the terms of settlement.

Through its counsel David Nowlan SC, the HSE apologised to Grace in court for its failings. The apology said the care she received while with the foster family fell "far short" of the compassionate, caring and personalised support she was entitled to.

Sara Moorhead SC, for the ward committee, said, when she got involved in this case: "I genuinely could not believe this was the 21st Century in terms of what we were dealing with."

For years, everyone appeared to "run away" from Grace in relation to her needs and this was "perhaps one of the saddest cases" concerning abdication of responsibility for a "literally voiceless" person, she said.

Irish Independent

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