Aoife Hegarty @aoifehegs

“The foster care system is the bedrock of the care system. Most of the time it does a fantastic job. However it has the potential to go seriously wrong.There’s no substitute for good practice, you know this is not an area where you can say mediocrity is ok, it isn’t.” –Kieran McGrath, Independent Child Welfare Consultant.

Foster care has been in the spotlight in recent months as a result of the fallout from the Waterford abuse story. In this report – Failure to Foster Care - reporter Aoife Hegarty and producer David Doran reveal another foster care scandal, this time in the West of Ireland, where children were left at risk for years despite sexual abuse allegations.

Last April, RTÉ’s Investigations Unit revealed the story of a young woman in foster care now known by the pseudonym ‘Grace’. ‘Grace’, who has profound intellectual disabilities, was left in a foster home in the Waterford area for almost 20 years despite a succession of sexual abuse allegations. During that period a total of 47 children were placed with that family. ‘Grace’s’ story received further attention when prior to the dissolution of the last Dáil, it was the subject of several high profile hearings of the Public Accounts Committee and has resulted in calls for a statutory Commission of Investigation into the matter.

RTÉ’s Investigations Unit has uncovered another case with similarities to the Waterford story where children were also left in the care of a foster family – in the West of Ireland – for several years despite serious allegations of sexual abuse against one family member. However, unlike the historical nature of the Waterford story, the foster family at the centre of this case has, until recently, continued to provide some support services.

Concerns in this case first arose in 2007 when a young girl in respite care with the family alleged she’d been abused by the then 18 year old member of that family. The same child also claimed that a second girl, who had been living with the foster family for over a decade, was also being abused by the same family member. HSE inquiries found her disclosure to be ‘credible’. While the HSE and An Garda Síochána investigated the allegations, it was decided that two other foster children also living with the family (one of which was the long term foster girl named by the respite child) should continue to stay there. A care plan was put in place in which the alleged abuser was not to have unsupervised contact with them. Following the Garda investigation a file was sent to the DPP but no prosecution followed.

However, RTÉ has learned that 4 years later in 2011 one of the two children who remained with the foster family – the girl named by the respite child in 2007 - also alleged she had suffered sexual abuse by the same family member. Following the allegation the girl was removed from the foster home. Around the same time it was decided a third remaining foster child, a boy should also be removed but it was almost a full year later when that actually happened. On both occasions – in 2007 and 2011 – the boy’s birth mother was not informed of the alleged abuses until 5 months after the allegations were made. Furthermore, despite the decision to remove him and the serious nature of the previous allegations and at his own request, the boy was allowed to return there last year where he continued to receive part time support up to recently.