Judge authorises legal action over State failures in child protection case

Child, for whom ‘no suitable placement’ had been available, was allegedly abused by more than 12 males

The court heard that, despite an apparent view by professionals at a case conference held when the girl was aged two that she should be taken into care, Tusla advised  it had no suitable placement for her.

The court heard that, despite an apparent view by professionals at a case conference held when the girl was aged two that she should be taken into care, Tusla advised it had no suitable placement for her.

 

The president of the High Court has authorised the taking of legal action against State agencies over their alleged “appalling” failures over years to protect a child from alleged sexual abuse by more than 12 males.

A “horror story” was described in an opinion by senior counsel Sara Moorhead setting out the grounds for a case to be brought against the HSE and the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) by the general solicitor for wards of court on behalf of the girl, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said.

The opinion described an “appalling failure of duty” on the part of State institutions to protect someone “most vulnerable”, he said. It stated, despite an apparent view by professionals at a case conference held when the girl was aged two that she should be taken into care, Tusla advised the conference it had no suitable placement for her.

Social workers, Ms Moorhead stated, were familiar with the girl’s family before she was born. The judge noted, in the year of her birth, a local public health nurse made a referral to the social work department outlining alleged physical abuse by the girl’s father towards her older siblings and raising question marks about the ability of the girl’s mother to cope with this further pregnancy.

Supports were provided but the girl remained in the family home until she was taken into care aged 10 following which she made disclosures, found to be credible, of alleged sexual abuse by more than 12 named individuals from her local area.

Criminal proceedings are pending against her mother and maternal grandfather arising from the disclosures. The girl was separately made a ward of court last year as she was about to turn 18 and she remains in a residential care unit.

Patricia Hickey, general solicitor for wards of court has now, based on the opinion from Ms Moorhead, taken the view legal action should be initiated on the ward’s behalf arising from the alleged failures of State entities to protect her.

Having read counsel’s opinion, Mr Justice Kelly on Wednesday authorised David Leahy BL, for Ms Hickey, to issue proceedings against the HSE and Tusla. He said he was grateful to Ms Hickey for the research and work done to date which had elicited the “very unhappy” situation set out in Ms Moorhead’s opinion.

Case conference

That opinion, he noted, said supports were put in place for the family when the girl was aged around a year. When still aged under two, a child protection case conference concluded there was a “high” level of concern regarding the family and agreed a core group of professionals, including a social worker and family support worker, would visit daily.

Just months later, a further case conference concluded concerns were at an extremely high level and the extensive community supports put in place had not made a difference. The opinion stated a view was apparently taken at that case conference that care proceedings should have been initiated in relation to the girl but Tusla told the meeting it had no suitable place for her.

Following reports of children being left at home unattended and of physical abuse, a supervision order was granted in 2003. There were reports of the girl experiencing developmental delay and of ongoing domestic violence and the parents separated when she was four. At age five, she was assessed as functioning within a mild range of general learning disability.

The judge said concerns for the girl and her siblings continued over the years including that a brother reported watching pornographic videos with his grandfather in the home. When aged 10, she and her siblings were taken into care.

This happened after she had missed more than 30 days at school and professionals were having difficulty accessing her home to provide supports.

The judge said, in her early months in care, the girl continually requested an internal vaginal examination, saying that she hurt. She received treatment and later made disclosures of alleged sexual abuse.

The court heard she named more than 12 individuals in her local area with whom she alleged she had sexual intercourse in her bedroom and in hotels. She also alleged a brother had been abused by male relatives.

A child sexual abuse unit assessed both children and concluded the allegations were credible, the judge noted. Mr Justice Kelly said it was clear from all he had read the young woman has “enormous issues”. He will deal later with proposals for her continuing care.