Foster home abuse case: Taoiseach pledges report recommendations will be acted upon
- Taoiseach pledges report recommendations will be acted upon
- Testimony from a young woman who detailed how she and others were raped in a foster home in Co Galway when she was just nine years old
- Keith Burke, now aged 29, jailed for seven and a half years
- Chief executive of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said the foster home where children were abused by the family's teenage son 'was not a safe place'
- Noeleen Blackwell said the foster children should have been moved as soon as the child's account of the abuse was taken
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged that recommendations from an investigation into the case of young girls being raped in foster care will be acted upon.
Mr Varadkar was commenting on revelations in a case highlighted in a television documentary broadcast on Tuesday night.
The RTÉ Prime Time programme carried testimony from a young woman who detailed how she and others were raped in a foster home in Co Galway when she was just nine years old.
Keith Burke, now aged 29, has since been jailed for seven and a half years. The focus is now on why the young child and others were left at his mercy, even after the unspeakable offences were brought to the attention of the Health Service Executive.
In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said everyone shared the dismay and heartbreak surrounding this horrific case.
"Sexual crimes against children are the worst form of crime: abhorrent, unspeakable and unforgiveable," the Taoiseach said.
He was replying to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who said that in 2007, the young girl, Rachel Barry, disclosed that she and another girl, known as 'Amy' were repeatedly raped by Burke.
She said that the complaint was deemed creditable but the young girl, Amy, and another child were left in the same foster home up to 2011.
Ms McDonald wanted to know what inquiries were since carried out and what action was to be taken.
The Taoiseach said an inquiry had been initiated in April 2016 under the National Review Panel which comprised a range of experts working in the child care sector. He pledged that the child care agency, Tusla, will act on the review recommendations and a report, delayed by a criminal case, is expected soon.
Mr Varadkar added that some people may find the sentence meted out to the culprit as lenient. But it was up to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide if an appeal was appropriate on this issue.
The Taoiseach said a number of changes to child care had since been put in place including the new child agency, Tusla.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said the foster home where children were abused by the family's teenage son "was not a safe place".
Noeleen Blackwell said the foster children should have been moved as soon as the child's account of the abuse was taken. She also dismissed the belief of Tusla CEO Fred McBride that it can be potentially "traumatising" for children to be removed from a foster home.
Speaking to RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland, Ms Blackwell said it is not "proportionate to leave children in a situation where they are at a serious risk of abuse".
She was responding to the Tusla CEO's comments in 2016, which were made a day after the original RTE Investigates programme.
Mr Fred McBride had told RTE that Tusla's job was "to assess that risk and take proportionate action where that is necessary".
He said at the time; "We have to be really careful. Simply removing children from a situation where they may be abuse can cause its own difficulties.
"Young people are often very traumatised from being removed from placements. We must concentrate how we can remove the abuse or the abuser rather than removing the child. The child can see the removal as a punishment. This can also cause additional trauma.
"We must be very careful not to make the situation worse."
However, Ms Blackwell said the HSE "must have known that there was a rusk when they received a credible report from Rachel Barry."
"In this case, I have great sympathy for those who are trying to make these decisions.
"These children have been removed from their natural homes, to foster homes and then removed again can be seen as a punishment.
"[However], that is only when the foster home is a safe place to be. Keith was not supervised. In this case, it was not a safe place."
She continued; "We don't take children seriously enough. Certainly, 10 years ago we didn't take them seriously enough.
"There must be better ways to better understand what children are saying.
"I noticed Rachel said she didn't have the words for [the abuse], of course she didn't have the words for it, she was a little thing.
"We should better listen to children and try and understand what they're saying."
Rachel Barry was raped by Keith Burke, (29), of Addergoolemore, Dunmore, Co Galway, at a foster home she shared with him from when she was just nine years old.
Ms Barry waived her right to anonymity so Burke could be publicly named and she has spoken about the toll the abuse has had on her.
Speaking on tonight's RTÉ Investigates, she said: "He took my virginity away from me at 9 - it’s sickening because I can never get that back.
"In my eyes I was dirty, in my body I was dirty so how could I expect anyone to treat me any other way but dirty. I feel strong but at the same time I feel weak because I can’t even face normal things, everyday things.
"I don’t go out, I have no friends, I don’t do anything with my life, I can’t even go into town without feeling genuinely petrified, I’m nearly shaking like, it’s not a life, I’m doing the prison sentence."
Ms Barry first went to a foster home run by Kathleen and Gerry Burke in Dunmore in Galway aged 8 in 2005, for a weekend of respite care once a month.
She told RTÉ Investigates that there she became friends with another child called 'Amy' (not her real name) and she said that Keith Burke began to abuse both girls.
"Keith called ‘Amy’ upstairs and asked ‘Amy’ to ask me to go to the hut to play, the hut was in the back of the house, a set of bushes and then there was the hut.
"In the hut there was a bed, there was a curtain around the bed, there was a shelf and two windows.
"Myself and ‘Amy’ in turns had to strip down with nothing only our socks on and while he had obviously done it to ‘Amy’ before, he called her over and I had to watch what was happening to her," Ms Barry remembers.
Ms Barry said that the two girls were sexually abused by Keith in front of each other over the next two years, which made her want to "protect" 'Amy'.
Things came to a head in May 2007 when Rachel confided about what was happening in the foster home to her biological mother.
She recalls: "I was in the bath and I just started crying, I felt dirty, mainly dirty, in a bath do you know.
"I just remember going in to my mother in a towel at 11 and saying what happened, Ididn’t put a name on it because I didn’t know what it was and then to see her crumble in front of me and me carrying it for two years before that."
Rachel underwent medical tests and following an investigation her evidence was deemed "credible" by the HSE (who were responsible for child protection at the time), RTE reports.
Rachel also reported that Keith had abused 'Amy' - who had been living at the foster home for over a decade, since she was six months old - but the younger girl did not disclose what had happened.
A file was sent by Gardai to the DPP but there was no prosecution and 'Amy' stayed living with the Burkes.
RTE Investigates reports that they have seen documents from months after Rachel's statement, where the HSE deemed that 'Amy' and another foster child, a boy, should remain in the Burke foster home.
The HSE deemed that Keith could not be left alone with the foster children, the foster parents agreed to supervise this and he moved out of the family home.
However at his sentencing two weeks ago, gardai said that he continued to have unsupervised access after 2007 to the foster home.
A HSE spokesperson told RTÉ “these are matters for Tusla.”
The Child & Family Agency, TUSLA told RTE that alongside the HSE they have been involved in the lives of the victims for a number of years and "in some cases this involvement continues to this day."
Their priority is to "continue to support them in their lives as they see fit and appropriate."
'Amy' confided about the sexual abuse to a teacher in October 2011 and the case was re-opened by gardai, which Ms Barry said was a relief.
She said candidly: "I was excited but so scared. I couldn’t wait to give Amy a hug ...
"When she came out and said what happened, I was relieved as well in a way that I wasn’t lying, I was telling myself that I lied and I wasn’t, I didn’t lie - I was telling the truth you know."
When the investigation was underway again in 2013 a third girl who had lived in the foster home, 'Sarah' (not her real name) came forward.
She had been placed in the Burke's foster home aged 5 in 2000 and had been raped by Keith Burke for years.
'Sarah' told RTE Investigates: "My dad gets a phone call from a guard, I didn’t know what was going on, he said he wanted to speak with me, it’s got to do with ‘Amy’.
"When I came off the phone I was all shook up, my dad knew there was something wrong so he asked me did this boy ever touch you or do anything to you and I broke down and told him and that was the first time I ever told anyone about it."
Brave 'Sarah' opened up about the sexual abuse she suffered from the age of six, saying: "I remember one time he had me, all my clothes off and he put me down on my stomach and he started having anal sex with me.
"I didn’t know what was happening - I just wanted it over.
"He just told me not to move or I’d be in trouble, he used to threaten me that he’d kill me... All I wanted was my dad."
'Sarah' said that she had also been forced to watch Keith rape 'Amy'.
She said: "It was horrible and she was so small and she was so young, she only a little girl like, and we both clicked and we both loved each other.
"I always wanted to protect her, but I couldn’t, like he was a beast, I was just too frightened of him."
'Sarah's' biological father took over her care in 2003 and she left the foster home, she says she found it hard to leave 'Amy' behind.
She said candidly: "It was heart breaking, I wanted to take her with me but we eventually kind of lost touch because I wanted it all behind me.
"I wanted nothing got to do with the house, it was kind of like a bad dream."
After 'Amy' spoke about the abuse in 2011 gardai began to investigate Keith Burke again, he was charged with more than 70 counts of sexual abuse, he pleaded not guilty and Rachel, 'Amy' and 'Sarah' were forced to give evidence.
'Sarah' said she that taking to the trial brought her ordeal back.
She said: "I had to go into detail about everything, I couldn’t just sit there and say a certain word, I had to describe it down to a “T” ...I’ve never been through anything like that before...
"I was happy that this man was going to be put behind bars but at the back of my head I was thinking how long?"
In July 2017 he was found he was found guilty on 23 sample charges – including rape, sexual assault and buggery.
At his sentencing hearing two weeks ago he admitted raping three foster children between 2003 and 2007 – all three girls were under 10 years of age at the time, he was aged between 14 and 18.
Burke (29) was sentenced to seven and a half years for the rape charges and concurrent terms of six and a half and five years for the remaining charges, the final year was suspended - 'Sarah' feels that justice has not been served.
"I was very angry, I thought I was fine but 6.5 years, 7.5 years with one year suspended, that’s nothing and what he put us through.
"I’m happy but it’ll always be there deep down like. I’ve tried to do counselling to talk about it, it just didn’t work out for me. I’ve really, really bad anger problems," 'Sarah' said.
Her solicitor Ronan Hynes is calling for a full investigation to be carried out.
He said in a statement: "My client and her family feel incredibly let down by a system that really was designed to protect them and serious questions need to be answered by the HSE and TUSLA regarding both the placement and safeguarding of ‘Sarah’ while she was in care.
"We’re calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris to ensure we have a full, independent and thorough investigation to ensure we get accountability, to ensure the victims of abuse and their families get the answers they deserve."
A HSE spokesperson said: "The HSE apologises unreservedly to the three women for failings in care they received while they were in foster care arranged by HSE’s Galway Community Care between 2005 and 2007.
"While no apology can undo the harm inflicted on them, it is important that the HSE expresses a heartfelt apology at this time.
"All of the relevant historic files are with Tusla since 2014.
"The HSE has been in contact with Tusla in order to discuss how best to determine whether this case raises any concerns for HSE delivered services today."
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs told Independent.ie: "The case was referred to the National Review Panel, which has a remit to review cases where there has been a serious event or death of a child in care.
"Now that the criminal case has been concluded, the review can now be completed. The Minister is looking forward to the report and its findings.
"In this case, at the time of the disclosure 11 years ago, child protection services came under the remit of the HSE. It is understood that the abuse involved took place no later than 2007.
"No further placements were made with the foster family.
"A safety plan was agreed for the remaining foster children, agreed by the foster carers and the abuser left the family home from that time.
"HSE Child protective service co-operated with Gardaí in the investigation in 2007, when the DPP did not proceed with the case, and with the later investigation between 2011 and 2016.
"The HSE provided the Gardai with contact details of children who had previously been fostered in this family, and through this a third child victim was identified.
"It is often the case that the child, whether in their family home or a foster home, benefits most from an action to remove the person posing the risk to the child, rather than take the child from what may have been their only home. This minimises the disruption in their own lives.
"Tusla balances the harm of removing a child from their family with the steps that the family can take, with support from social workers, to remove the risk.
"When an allegation of abuse is made, Tusla takes immediate action to protect any child or children who may be at immediate risk.
"All concerns and allegations in foster care are managed in line with Tusla’s operational guidance.
"Tusla has indicated that this will be further enhanced by a revised National Procedures and Guidance in 2018.
"Foster care placements are subject to a number of safeguards including on-going Garda vetting for foster carers and adult family members; regular visits to the household from children’s social workers and foster carers’ social workers; and inspections of fostering services by HIQA."
Independent.ie has also contacted TUSLA for comment.
- If you have been affected by the content of this article, the National Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour helpline can be reached on 1800 77 88 88 or visit www.rapecrisishelp.ie