Saturday 21 July 2018

Children remained with foster family for years despite sex abuse allegations against one member

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Martin Grant

Children remained in the care of a foster family for several years despite serious allegations of sexual abuse against one family member, a programme by the RTÉ Investigations Unit has revealed.

The ‘Failure to Foster Care’ programme aired last night after an investigation lasting several months.

The programme revealed how children were left in the care of a foster family in the west of Ireland for several years – despite allegations of sexual abuse against one family member.

In May 2007, a young girl in respite care with the foster family alleged she had been abused by an 18-year-old member of the family.

The HSE conducted an investigation and assessed the disclosure by the child as “credible”. The young girl also claimed that a second girl, called ‘Deirdre’, was also abused by the same member of the foster family.

The HSE conducted an assessment on ‘Deirdre’, but she did not allege she had been abused. The gardaí also launched an investigation.

At a meeting held two months after the allegations were made, the HSE decided not to remove ‘Deirdre’ or another child called ‘Daniel’ while the gardaí were involved.

Instead, the alleged abuser was not allowed to be left alone with the foster children. The children were to have a monthly meeting and no further children would be placed in the home until gardaí completed their investigations.

However, documents show that ‘Daniel’ had not been interviewed until five months after the allegations were made.  His birth mother was only informed about the allegations at that stage.

Gardaí sent a file to the DPP, but no prosecutions followed. The HSE decided, in conjunction with the foster parents, that both ‘Daniel’ and ‘Deirdre’ would continue to live with them.

The HSE and Tusla did not comment on this decision. Four years later, in October 2011, ‘Deirdre’ made a separate set of sexual abuse allegations against the same foster family member.

A garda investigation was launched and ‘Deirdre’ was removed from the foster home. A month later it was decided to seek an alternative place for ‘Daniel’, but this didn’t happen for five months.

The HSE only told ‘Daniel’s’ birth mother about the latest allegations five months later.

Minutes of a HSE teleconference show that while it was felt ‘Daniel’ was “in a safe position”, it was agreed that “the most favourable option” was for him to be removed as the HSE no longer had “confidence” in the placement.

While ‘Daniel’ refused to leave the foster family, his mother’s solicitor wrote to the HSE demanding his removal.

‘Daniel’ was finally removed from the care, five years after the initial allegation in 2007. At his own request, it was decided ‘Daniel’ should return to the same foster home where he received part-time support up until recently.

Last year, more than 70 charges relating to three victims – all of rape and buggery – were brought against the family member accused of sexual abuse. The majority of the charges relate to ‘Deirdre’ and the case is ongoing.

Independent child welfare consultant Kieran McGrath said the current foster care system has potential to make extreme mistakes.

“The foster care system is the bedrock of the care system,” said Mr McGrath. “Most of the time it does a fantastic job. However, it has the potential to go seriously wrong.”

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