FAILURE TO FOSTER CARE – UPDATE @aoifehegs

There’s been widespread criticism from several child protection bodies today of the failure of the HSE and the Child and Family Agency, TUSLA to adequately protect a number of children left in a foster home in the West of Ireland despite serious allegations of sexual abuse against one family member. The case – revealed by RTÉ’s Investigations Unit on Prime Time last night – has prompted strong reaction from many organisations. EPIC, an association which works with children in care, has called for an independent inquiry into the allegations, while the ISPCC has said a full independent investigation of the case is required within 90 days and should be completed in a timely manner.

This lunchtime the Chief Executive of TUSLA, Fred McBride spoke publically regarding the case for the first time on RTÉ’s News at One. He confirmed that there are no children currently in the foster home in question but he added that ‘Daniel’ – who was not removed from the home until 5 years after the first set of sexual abuse allegations and returned there last year – continues to visit the foster home at weekends.

During the interview, Mr McBride also said that removing a child from a foster home should be the last resort and if they can manage to remove the source of the abuse, the preference is to leave the child in the foster home – if that is the child’s wish. In this case, in 2007 the HSE decided – in conjunction with the foster parents – that two foster children, including ‘Daniel’, would continue to live with the foster family.

However, speaking today Mr McBride did not confirm if the alleged abuser in this case was in fact removed from the foster home – on foot of action by the HSE – when the allegations of sexual abuse first arose in 2007.

Whether this did or did not happen, RTÉ’s Investigations Unit understands that the alleged abuser did in fact continue to have contact with at least one of the foster children – ‘Daniel’ – in the wake of both sets of abuse allegations. The safety plan put in place by the HSE following the original allegations in 2007 stated that the alleged abuser was “not to be left alone with the children” - this was to be monitored by the foster parents. However, documents seen by the Investigations Unit show that in mid 2015 both ‘Daniel’ and the foster parents were spoken to by HSE employee because unsupervised contact had taken place.

Following the second set of abuse allegations, the HSE decided that ‘Daniel’ should also be removed from the foster home – but this did not actually happen for almost a full year, partly because ‘Daniel’ did not want to leave the foster family. During that time and as reported last night, ‘Daniel’s’ birth mother – who we’ve called ‘Gráinne’ – had her solicitor write several letters to the HSE demanding her son’s immediate removal.

The RTÉ Investigations Unit has also seen correspondence in which ‘Gráinne’ repeatedly contacted several public representatives to alert them to ‘Daniel’s’ case – that correspondence includes a series of emails to the then Minister for Health, James Reilly back as far as mid 2012. The Minister responded through his Private Secretary thanking ‘Gráinne’ for her email and informing her that a copy of her “correspondence has been referred to the CEO of the HSE who will arrange for the matters raised to be investigated.”

This afternoon Mr. McBride said that TUSLA is referring its handling of the case at the foster home in the West of Ireland to the National Review Panel, an independent body, under the chairmanship of Dr. Helen Buckley.