Friday 25 May 2018

Foster family abuse allegations will be probed, says Tusla

Former Health Minister James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Former Health Minister James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

An independent investigation by a group of experts will get under way into allegations that children were left with a foster family despite claims of sexual abuse.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, said it has referred the case - which involved a family in the west of Ireland - to the National Review Panel, chaired by Helen Buckley of Trinity College.

The panel is charged with examining cases where children in care or known to services die or suffer serious incidents.

It follows an RTÉ 'Prime Time' programme which claimed one member of the family is alleged to have sexually abused children who were placed in foster care.

A young girl in respite care first made the allegations in 2007 and her claims were found to be "credible".

Two other children remained with the family and the alleged abuser was not to have any unsupervised contact with them.

Four years later, one of these children also alleged she was abused.

It emerged yesterday that one of the parents of the children in foster care wrote to James Reilly in 2011 when he was Minister for Health. One of the minister's officials responded, and said he had referred it to the HSE.

As the investigation was confirmed yesterday, Tusla chief executive Fred McBride said: "As there is a criminal investigation and a pending court case, it would be inappropriate for me to respond to questions that might have a bearing on the case.

"It is also very important that due sensitivity be exercised in relation to persons affected."

He said once a child is safe, it may be better to leave them in such a foster home rather than subject them to separation anxiety after suffering so much turbulence in their young lives.

Removing a child from the family could be a "last resort" although they would have to be reassured there is no risk to them, he told RTÉ's 'News at One'.

Asked to comment on this proposed action, Dr John Hillery, spokesman for the College of Psychiatrists, said he could see how it could be better for some children to remain in the home if an alleged abuser was no longer present.

However, he stressed: "The child would have to be absolutely safe.

"The family would also have to be rigorously assessed to ensure that they are fully capable of looking after the child in these circumstances

"Issues such as how abuse could have been perpetrated without other members of the family knowing about it would have to be looked at."

The Irish Foster Care Association admitted that several foster families are not subject to sufficient checks.

In some cases, families have not been reviewed for between 10 and 15 years.

There are around 6,331 children in the care of the State. Of these, some 93pc are in foster care, with 4,047 in a general foster care.

Another 1,818 are in foster care with relatives.

Several reports by the watchdog Hiqa have highlighted how overstretched social services are, with the result that families are not always fully vetted before a child is placed with them.

Around one in 10 children have not been allocated a social worker.

The service continues to suffer from a turnover of social workers, particularly in the child protection area.

Around 14pc of children are in care less than a year. Some 48pc are in care for between one and five years.

But more than a third are in the care of the State for longer than five years.

Barnardos yesterday criticised the delays in investigating failures in child protection.

Irish Independent

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