Thursday 20 June 2019

Social workers who left girls in foster home despite abuse claims still in jobs

Abuse victim Rachel Barry
Abuse victim Rachel Barry

Allison Bray

Social workers who decided to keep three young girls in a foster home despite sex abuse allegations against their now-convicted rapist are still working in the same jobs, it has emerged.

Dr Aisling Gillen, Regional Service Director West for the Tusla child and family agency, was asked four times by RTÉ's 'News At One' presenter Aine Lawlor yesterday if the same staff who made the "disastrous decisions'' to keep the girls in place are still working for the agency.

She eventually conceded that "a number of those staff are still in the system".

This is despite a scathing report by the National Review Panel which outlines a litany of failures by management and staff employed by the Health Services Executive (HSE) and Tusla, concerning their management of the case which saw the victims suffer "grave and heinous sexual abuse" while in State care.

The report cited "serious errors of judgment", "flawed assessment and decision- making" and a "lack of management oversight" concerning the Social Work Department's involvement with the foster family, according to RTÉ.

The report was obtained by 'RTÉ Investigates' following its April 2018 broadcast of the documentary 'Failure to Foster' in which abuse victim Rachel Barry - who waived her right to anonymity - was sexually abused by Keith Burke, the then teenage son of foster parents Gerry and Kathleen Burke in Dunmore, Co Galway, starting when she was only nine years old.

Her disclosure ultimately led to the conviction last year of Burke, who was found guilty of the rape and buggery of three foster girls who were under the age of 10 at the time of the offences when they stayed with the family between 2003 and 2007.

Despite an investigation by the HSE, which found Ms Barry's allegations were 'credible', the social work team decided to keep Ms Barry and two other girls at the Burke foster home.

The second girl later disclosed being raped by Burke. This was followed by a third disclosure of sex abuse by another young girl living at the foster home.

The HSE at the time decided Burke could not be left alone with the children and he moved out of the family home.

However it later emerged he did still have unsupervised access to the foster children despite an order against such access.

The social workers were employed by the HSE at the time before the child and family agency Tusla was created in 2014.

The 22-page report investigated how the HSE and Tusla dealt with the case. It found there were "systemic flaws by management" of both agencies in failing to protect the children and cited a catalogue of inactions by both State agencies.

Tusla, meanwhile, said it accepted the findings and recommendations by the panel and that "key learnings have been identified and are being addressed".

"We are very mindful of the devastating impact on the victims in this case and the effect that this has had on them, and their families," the agency said in a statement.

"We now know that the decisions made in 2007 and 2011 were not robust enough to keep the children safe."

A spokesperson for the HSE did not provide comment at the time of going to print.

Irish Independent

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