Cork social worker jailed for year over €96,000 scam

Woman put names of children never in care on a list of at risk youths to make false claims

The judge said  what made the crime worse worse was that she used the names of actual children who were not even within the compass of the HSE.

The judge said what made the crime worse worse was that she used the names of actual children who were not even within the compass of the HSE.

 

A former social worker has been jailed for a year after she put the names of children who were never in care on a list of at risk youths to claim over €96,000 in false payments.

Jennifer O’Driscoll (46) of,St John’s Terrace, World’s End, Kinsale, Co Cork was sentenced to three years in jail with two years suspended by Judge Sean O Donnabhain. She pleaded guilty to 38 counts of theft and 42 counts of deception at North Lee Social Work Department, Blackpool, Cork between May 2008 and January 2013.

Det Sgt Clodagh O’Sullivan had previously told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how the HSE social worker used to her detailed knowledge of the payment system for foster families to make the false claims. They amounted to €96,962 over a near five year period.

The fraud involved O’Driscoll making out payments to foster families for fake foster placements for real children. When the money was paid to the families, she would then call to them and explain that a mistake had been made by a new person in the unit and that they had been overpaid.

O’Driscoll would then recoup the overpaid money, explaining that other foster families were awaiting payments. None of the foster families suspected anything was amiss other than an administrative error as O’Driscoll was a social worker and they trusted her.

Some nine foster families and 23 children were embroiled in the scam which came to light over HSE concerns about payments to two foster families. It included three children who ended up being placed on a HSE list of children at risk even though they were never in care.

Det Sgt O’Sullivan said that O’Driscoll made admissions when she was arrested and questioned about the fraud. However she disputed the amounts involved and denied it was €96,962. Gardai were satisfied that this was the amount that she got from her fraud operation.

On Friday O’Driscoll’s barrister Sinead Behan BL said that her client, who has since resigned from the HSE and had her professional social work qualification removed, has repaid over €70,000 and was happy to forfeit the remainder of her pension which was worth €4,000 per annum.

Judge O Donnabhain said that the starting point in dealing with any fraud case was that the fraud was deliberate and planned but this was marked by a “distinct and organised methodology” by O’Driscoll to create “a web of deceit with herself at the centre”.

It was bad enough that she had stolen money that was destined for people who were entitled to payments to foster children but what made it even worse was that she used the names of actual children who were “not even within the compass of the HSE” to perpetrate the fraud, he said.

The judge accepted that it would have been a difficult and prolonged case for the State to prove had it gone to trial and there was no certainty as to the outcome so in that sense her plea of guilty was of significant benefit and she should be given credit for that, he said.

He also accepted that O’Driscoll had lost her job as a social worker and would not work in the profession again and that she had repaid a significant sum and could conceivably end up paying back more than she stole when all her pension entitlements were forfeited.

But he had studied recent fraud cases from the Court of Appeal and a common theme through all of them, which all involved “a fundamental breach of trust”, was that when a substantial sum of money was stolen, the court confirmed a custodial sentence.

He said that in those circumstances, he believed the appropriate headline sentence was three years but he suspended the final two given that O’Driscoll had no previous convictions and had previously been of good character. O’Driscoll was fighting back the tears as she stood in the dock .