'This is a living hell and I don't trust the HSE or accept the apology' - Grace's mother speaks for first time
THE birth mother of Grace, the young woman left in a foster home for years after allegations of abuse were made, has said recent years have been a "living hell" since she learned her daughter was not living with a loving foster family - as she had been led to believe.
The woman was speaking to RTÉ Investigates in an exclusive interview, to be broadcast on Claire Byrne Live tonight.
The Government is to establish a Commission of Investigation to examine the disturbing case, with Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath bringing terms of reference to Cabinet tomorrow.
In her first interview, Grace's mother has said she has rejected a written apology from the Health Service Executive and doesn't trust them.
"I got one letter just there a while back," she said.
"I felt in my heart it wasn’t coming from the heart, I don’t accept that apology. No one from the HSE ever picked up a phone and apologised to me or asked me how am I doing? Nobody had ever done that for me.
"I don’t accept their apology. I don’t trust them, I don’t trust what they have to say. The past five years have been a living hell for me, and that’s the only way I can describe it.
"And it’s still that way."
Grace was put in care as a baby by her single mother in the sourtheast in the 1970s.
Her mother stayed in contact with her with the South Eastern Health Board (later the HSE), and said that she was repeatedly led to believe her daughter was living with a loving foster family.
"My understanding back then before all the allegations was that she was happy, she was attending her day services and she was just in a loving caring home," she said.
"That made me happy knowing she was happy, that’s what I was always told."
But it has since emerged that Grace was allowed stay in the home for 20 years, 13 of which came after allegations of abuse in the home were made by the family of another child.
During that time several opportunities to remove her from the home were not followed through with, despite evidence of bruising, black eyes and disturbing behaviour suggestive of sexual abuse.
Grace's mother says she first learned of the sexual abuse allegations in 2009.
At that point she immediately demanded the removal of 'Grace' from the foster home.
In relation to allegations that Grace's mother was never told about the sexual abuse allegations when they first arose, the HSE said "this is a matter best dealt with by the commission of inquiry."
It comes after two reports into the issue were released last week.
The Devine report detailed how health board staff failed to remove Grace form the home 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.
The Resilience Ireland report looked into the cases of over 30 other children who were placed at the foster home.
It found one case where there were allegations a child was locked in a cupboard at the home by the foster mother. Other children complained about overcrowding.
However, the reports have failed to shed light on why a three-person health board committee decided in 1996 to overturn an earlier decision to remove Grace from the home. The HSE has clarified that the three people on this panel are now retired and in receipt of a pension.
An initial decision to remove her came after a sexual abuse allegation was made against the male foster carer.
The Devine 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.
Plans in later years to remove Grace were resisted by the foster mother, who said she depended on the placement for income.
Grace was even returned to the foster home despite being admitted to a sexual assault unit for an examination in 2009.
She was eventually removed from the home later that year following the intervention of social workers at a day service she was attending.
Grace's mother told RTE she cannot yet bring herself to read Grace’s full file as it is too disturbing and upsetting for her.
In a statement in response to Grace's mothers interview the HSE said:
"It is genuinely to our regret but we understand why Grace’s mother cannot accept our apology now. We do hope that in the future she may be in a position to do so. What is most important is that any questions she has which remain to be answered, that she will get those answers from the objective viewpoint of the upcoming Commission of Inquiry.
"Once again the HSE can only apologise to Grace and her mother and say that we genuinely are very sorry for all of the failings in her care and in our system."
The HSE said it would co-operate fully with the investigation. The fact Grace's mother and others still have questions was "indicative of just how complex this matter is over a twenty year period" the statement said.
The statement also moved to clarify that the HSE has co-operated with gardaí since 2011.
The RTÉ Investigates report will be broadcast on Claire Byrne Live, RTE One tonight at 10.35pm.