Thursday 12 December 2019

Shame on us for dismissing the evidence of children so easily

The voices of our abused young continue to go unheard because we simply don't want to listen, says Carol Hunt

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

What must it feel like? To be a parent of an already vulnerable daughter, and realise that the place of safety which you - by recommendation of the State - had placed her in, turned out to be a torture chamber?

That unbeknownst to you, your daughter had been abused to such a degree that the damage to her internal organs necessitated surgery and would shorten her life? Could there be anything worse? Unbelievably, there could. Because when the girl's parents brought their suspicions to the relevant health board they found "no one believed us". Worse again, it was implied the abuse may have occurred in the family home.

So, on the one hand there's a young girl, profoundly intellectually disabled, who was placed with a foster family for a few days a week so she could attend a nearby specialist school. Her mother went and looked at it. She said, "I trusted the health board".

For 13 years of her daughter's placement there, the health board knew there were serious concerns - well-founded and numerous allegations of abuse - about this home. What did they do? They left the girl there. Between 1983 and 1995, 47 children were placed there. After 1995 referrals stopped, yet this girl remained there until 2009 when her mother found evidence of the abuse.

And on the other hand, there's the State, in the form of the HSE, who deliberately ignored all warnings of child abuse, and sent this girl back to a foster home where she was physically and mentally tortured.

In a briefing document to the PAC, the HSE apologised to people "who received poor care when placed with the foster family" - an understatement that defies belief. It also said an apology was made to the woman at the centre of this case. It emerges no apology was made but that's the least of the horrific injustices meted out to this woman.

What sort of people are we? Over the past few decades, our uniform response to the avalanche of horror stories that emerged about child abuse in Irish institutions has been that we "didn't know". How could we know? Because if we did, surely as decent people who love children, we'd have put a stop to it?

But that's just not true. We did know. As early as 1931 the Carrigan Report detailed extensive and systemic child abuse across society. The report was suppressed and the abuse continued. It was suppressed for two reasons. Firstly, it reflected badly on holy Catholic Ireland, and secondly, because it depended on the evidence of children - which could be easily dismissed. Child abuse was to remain our dirty little secret.

And so it continues today. The most vulnerable in our society are treated with utter contempt. Last year, Mary Flaherty, of Children at Risk, described funding for services for victims of child sexual abuse as a "disgrace".

There are nearly 6,000 child protection cases awaiting assignment to social workers. And yet earlier this month the Government told a UN committee on the Rights of the Child that it has not implemented recent mandatory reporting legislation because it is concerned it will have to respond to a huge increase in inappropriate child abuse claims.

The evidence of children is so easily dismissed. Who knows what they might say if given a voice. What is evident though is that we don't want to listen. Shame on us.

@carolmhunt Carol Hunt is an Independent Alliance candidate for Dun Laoghaire constituency

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