A social worker put the names of children who were never in care on an official HSE register of at risk young people in order to carry out a fraud which allow her to claim almost €100,000 in payments, a court has heard.
Jennifer O'Driscoll (45), of St John's Terrace, World's End, Kinsale, Co Cork 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.
O'Driscoll (45) used to her detailed knowledge of the payment system for families to make the false claims, amounting to some €96,000, over a near five year period, Cork Circuit Criminal Court was told.
Det Sgt Clodagh O’Sullivan said the charges followed a Garda investigation into overpayments to foster families.
“Nine foster carers and 23 children were embroiled in this investigation. Named children were placed on the list of children at risk even though they were never in care at all.”
She explained that the fraud involved O’Driscoll using her knowledge of the fostering system to generate the paper work to say that a particular child was being placed with a foster care family even though in reality there was no such placement.
The relevant financial section of the HSE would then make the designated fortnightly payment to the foster family without realising it was a fake placement and when the payment went through, O’Driscoll would contact the family directly to say that there had been an error.
O’Driscoll would always blame a fictitious officer deputising on maternity leave for the errors and would always ask for the money to be refunded to her in cash and would drive out to the home of the foster family to collect it.
In some cases the foster carers suggested keeping the money and having the next payment, to which they were entitled, stopped but O’Driscoll would explain that another foster family had been left without the payment and that she would bring the cash directly to them.
The fraud was discovered after a disciplinary matter arose in relation to O’Driscoll and in the course of an examination of her work, the irregularities came to light, said Det Sgt O’Sullivan who said O’Driscoll had since been dismissed.
Defence barrister Sinead Behan BL said her client’s plea of guilty had resulted in significant savings of costs and had spared witnesses the inconvenience of coming to court for a trial. Her client was currently under the care of a psychiatrist, said Ms Behan.
She brought €18,000 to court towards compensation, planned to have a further €10,000 soon and was willing to forego pension entitlements valued at €15,000.
“She is disgusted and horrified at her own behaviour. She is extremely remorseful,” said Ms Behan.
Judge David Riordan agreed to a defence application to adjourn sentencing until October 25th to allow O'Driscoll come up with more compensation but he did caution that he viewed the matter very seriously.
“There are big issues here in terms of breach of trust,” he said.