Thursday 22 March 2018

'Their lives were robbed' - Sister of 'Sarah' who lived in the Grace Foster Home speaks about 'horrific sex abuse'

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Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

The sister of a child who spent time in the 'Grace' Foster Home has claimed her sister 'Sarah', also suffered horrific sexual abuse at the home.

In an interview with David McCullagh on RTÉ's Prime Time, the woman spoke out about her family's experience at the foster home.

Sarah had intellectual disabilities and the family decided that the best learning option for her would be in a home that was far away from the family.

"There was a private arrangement where Sarah could go just kind of respite during the week just to give her a break from all the travelling but this wasn’t approved by the Health Board at that stage and they were keen for Sarah to go and stay in a registered foster placement.

"It was a comforting thing to our mother because she felt well if this was under the Health Board, the HSE, then all the checks were in place and that would be the best place for Sarah because she would be safe."

Sarah's sister said the family began to have concerns about the home.

"As a parent this is your worst nightmare. Sarah was home on a Sunday afternoon with Mom playing in the sitting room and just being in the space and Sarah was a beautiful young child and Mom said a very innocent turn of phrase and to her absolute horror Sarah got into a position, took down her pants, and kind of got into a sexual position and as you can imagine for any Mum, my mum was shocked and she just was you know immobilised."

The family raised their concerns with the Health Board as they believed it needed to be addressed immediately.

"It was led by our mother who just looked at other options to get her out of there and to see what would offer her the best and safest environment again to learn and grow into her young teens and into adulthood and that meant that she left the jurisdiction and had to go to the North.

"We knew that Sarah had to go and leave that place but again the options were limited and again mom had to look for places outside of Ireland up to Northern Ireland."

According to RTÉ, Sarah's mum was one of the first whistleblowers in the home, and a recommendation was made that another child named 'Grace' would be removed from the foster home but no action was taken.

"Our mother would have been the first whistleblower and again you’re living in a different time and different context altogether and it would have taken a lot of strength and courage to go forward really start speaking out about what her concerns were and not only was she met with a brick wall, they came down really hard on our mother, there was reports written up, they were quite aggressive towards the family, they just totally bullied us in to thinking that it was all just in Mam's head.

"On the other hand they were doing all of these checks themselves and reaching a decision well actually there is something going wrong and Sarah was there the same time as Grace, you know their lives have been robbed in so many ways.

"Both beautiful, innocent children. Some of the most vulnerable children in our state."

Sarah's sister said that she is not only a victim but a survivor.

"Sarah is a victim of this but she’s also a survivor and she is one of the most incredible human beings I know. I have no idea of the pain, the physical pain and the mental torture. Sarah doesn’t have words to express what happened to her how she suffered and yet Sarah greets every day fighting.

"Some days she struggles to get out of bed, there’s so much damage done to her bowel and yet she still has the ability to laugh, she's one of the most forgiving people you’ll meet and she fights for her life and she fights to have meaningful role within our community and be part of our family and that’s why we’ll continue to fight for her right to be heard and her to have a voice and have justice and some truth around what she’s faced and what she’s gone through."

The family are hoping that the Commission of Investigation will give them answers into why this happened.

"I just wonder why Finian Mc Grath in his role as the Minister, particularly in his role as Minister for Disability has chosen this path. We have looked under the Freedom of Information for Sarah’s files to know who has had access to her file and yet we still haven’t got that.

"I think we’re very fortunate that we have some really strong individuals who have gone forward as whistle blowers and we know that whistleblowers are not treated very well in this country but I think without them and without the support of lots of champions in the area this story would be very easily forgotten about and the absolute horrors that have been inflicted on young vulnerable children would be just laid to rest."

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