Friday 18 October 2019

Disabled Grace left in foster care for 20 years despite abuse claims

Former health minister Michael Noonan. His then office requested a health board report Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former health minister Michael Noonan. His then office requested a health board report Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Health service staff failed in their duty of care towards an intellectually disabled girl who was left in a foster home for 20 years despite evidence she and other children were being abused, a report has found.

The girl, now a woman known as Grace, was allowed to remain in the home in the south east for 13 years after an allegation of sexual abuse was made against her foster father.

She was also not removed despite presenting at day services with unexplained bruising and a black eye, according to a report by consultants Conal Devine and Associates, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.

A commission of investigation into the affair is expected to be announced shortly.

Action was not taken even though health workers noted in the mid-1990s that the girl would strip off her clothes and engage in other "chaotic behaviour", such as wolfing down her food, stealing dinners and headbutting other children.

A second report, also being published by the HSE today, by consultants Resilience Ireland, details allegations that a second child was locked in a cupboard at the home by the foster mother.

The Devine report was unable to get to the bottom of why a decision taken in April 1996 to remove the girl from the home, on account of the sexual abuse allegation against her male carer, was later overturned.

It detailed how the foster parents wrote to then health minister Michael Noonan that August in an effort to appeal her removal. There is no suggestion he intervened on their behalf.

His officials requested a report from the health board, which responded saying it had grounds for believing it was in the girl's best interests to be removed. A local school principal subsequently wrote to Mr Noonan's office in support of Grace remaining in the foster home.

The letter was forwarded to the health board, along with a request for a further report on the matter.

Mr Noonan's office was told the principal's views would be taken into account in deliberations on Grace's future care.

The report said the decision to remove her was overturned that October and the reasons why remain in dispute.

It was noted at the case conference where the decision was taken that there was "no evidence" Grace's welfare was not being met.

Yet a decision was taken at the same meeting not to place any other children there.

The male carer died in 2001, but health authorities were not immediately informed.

Fresh plans to remove Grace were resisted by the foster mother, who said she depended on the placement for income.

Grace was eventually removed from the home in 2009 following the intervention of social workers at a day service she was attending. By then she was 31 years old and had been in the home for 20 years.

The Devine report said its investigators believed she had suffered abuse while living with the family.

It outlined a long list of failings by the health services in the area. Although the home should have been subject to six-monthly reviews, there was none.

After Grace turned 18 the team responsible for her changed from a foster care team to one at adult mental handicap services.

Specific staff were supposed to follow up decisions made about her care. But the report said there was confusion about who was supposed to do what.

There were no records of decisions taken at a crucial case conference being followed up and the report concluded there had been a failure in the duty of care towards Grace.

It also found new staff were not told about the situation.

No one looked into the reasons why she was not moved to a residential placement many years earlier.

Although the Devine report was completed in 2012 and the Resilience Ireland report in 2015, the publication of both investigations was delayed due to ongoing Garda investigations.

No one has ever been charged with an offence in relation to her care.

Irish Independent

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