The Chief Executive of the State's Child and Family Agency has said that Tusla is referring its handling of the case of alleged child sexual abuse at a foster home in the west of Ireland to the National Review Panel.

The panel is an independent body under the chairmanship of Dr Helen Buckley.

Fred McBride said one of the areas the panel would need to look at was the decision making in the case of the girl known as 'Deirdre', who was left in the foster home until 2011 after another child had claimed she had been abused in 2007.

"What were the reasons for that, were those reasons sound reasons, were they credible reasons or were they not and that's the kind of investigation we now need to conduct," Mr McBride said. 

Mr McBride also accepted that the safety plan, agreed after the initial complaint in 2007, that the girl and a boy could remain in the foster home, but that the alleged abuser was not to have unsupervised contact with them, put an onus and responsibility on the foster carers to monitor that situation.

"That's something that we need to assess, whether they are capable of doing that or not. If they're not capable of doing that then we need to take alternative action but yes you're correct, it does put a responsibility... back onto the foster carer.

"We monitor that, we support the foster carer in that and if that action is not working it may then lead to the removal of the child," Mr McBride said.

Two organisations advocating for vulnerable young people in State care have added their voices to calls for an independent inquiry into allegations that children were left in foster care settings despite allegations of sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Minister for Children James Reilly has said he was not informed by Tusla of the allegations concerning the most recent case until last Monday.

The case relates to a number of children who were being cared for in the home in the west of Ireland over several years.

RTÉ's Investigations Unit has discovered concerns were first raised in 2007 when a young girl in respite care with a foster family alleged she had been abused by a then 18-year-old member of that family.

Health Service Executive inquiries found the girl’s claims to be "credible" - but it was decided that two other foster children could remain with the family and the alleged abuser was not to have unsupervised contact with them.

RTÉ has also learned that four years later one of these two children also alleged she was sexually abused by the same family member.

She was removed from the home and it was decided the third child, a boy, should also be moved to a new placement.

It was almost a year before that happened and last year the boy was allowed to return to the same foster home - where he continued to receive part-time support until recently.

Tusla aims to make proportionate decisions

Interview with Tusla Chief Executive Fred McBride

This afternoon Mr McBride said the agency makes decisions proportionate to the presenting risks and in the best interests of children.

He said that removing a child from a foster home should be a last resort and if they can manage to remove the source of abuse, the preference is to leave the child in the foster home, if that is the child's wish.

Mr McBride said young children are often very traumatised when removed from foster homes and see it as a punishment.

He said if there is a clear evidence there is no risk posed to the children than removing them from the home has to be a last resort. Great care has to be taken before such a decision is made, he said.

Agencies urge independent inquiry into case

In light of the revelations, children's charity Barnardos and EPIC, an organisation advocating for young people in State care, called for the establishment of an independent and permanent statutory body to investigate cases of this nature.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Barnardos Chief Executive Fergus Finlay said the outgoing government promised a transparent judicial inquiry into allegations of abuse at a Waterford foster home. 

Last year it was revealed a young woman with profound intellectual disabilities was left in a home in the Waterford area for almost 20 years despite a succession of sexual abuse allegations.

The Government has already decided in principle to establish a Commission of Investigation into the woman's case.

Mr Finlay said there is still no terms of reference for this inquiry and already there is another alleged abuse case to be investigated.

He added that nothing is ever going to change unless "we find out how and why these things happen". 

He said Tusla does not have the money necessary to spend on protecting children and providing family support.

Director of EPIC Jennifer Gargan also criticised Tusla for failing to provide about one in ten foster carers with a link social worker.

The ISPCC has also called for a full independent investigation of the case.

CEO Grainia Long said: "It is paramount that the voices of children are heard, listened to, and acted upon. It is essential, for example, that where concerns exist regarding a child in a foster care setting, all children in that setting are met with and any concerns explored."

Ms Long said the agency is concerned that many children in care do not have a dedicated social worker or have a care plan in place.

Tusla has said that over one-in-five foster carers did not have a social worker assigned to them by the State at the end of last year, in contravention of the standards employed by the agency.

Last December just 79% of the more than 4,100 approved fosterers had been assigned a social worker, while there were 380 unapproved relative foster carers.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy said the scope of the investigation into the allegations of abuse at the foster home needs to be widened in light of what has been learned since.

The Waterford TD said that what had come out in terms of the resourcing and staffing of child protection services, as well reports suggesting that the case in a foster home in the southeast may not have been isolated, appeared to justify a broader investigation into the foster care system. 

Acting chief executive of the Irish Foster Care Association Breda O'Donovan has said she is concerned there is a failure to protect children. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, Ms O'Donovan said she hopes the case raised in the RTÉ Investigations Unit report is isolated, but with a lack of information, it is hard to ascertain. 

She said there is an increased risk associated with children in care who have not been assigned a social worker.