A former social worker has been remanded in custody for sentence after a court heard how she put the names of children who were never in care on an official HSE register so she could claim almost €100,000 in payments.
Jennifer O'Driscoll (46), of St John's Terrace, World's End, Kinsale, Co Cork was back in court on Friday after previously pleading 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 told Cork Circuit Criminal Court how O'Driscoll, who was employed by the HSE as a social worker, used her detailed knowledge of the payment system for foster families to make the false claims, amounting to €96,962 over a five-year period.
The fraud involved O’Driscoll making out payments to foster families for fake foster placements for real children and when the money was paid to the families, she would then call to them and explain 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, the court heard.
Nine foster families and 23 children were embroiled in the scam, which came to light over HSE concerns about payments to two foster families.
Det Sgt O’Sullivan said O’Driscoll made admissions when she was arrested and questioned about the fraud, though she disputed the amounts taken.
O’Driscoll, who has since resigned from the HSE, had no previous convictions and had repaid €54,000 of the money, said Det Sgt O’Sullivan. She also agreed with defence barrister Sinead Behan that O’Driscoll’s plea was of assistance to gardaí as it would have been a complex case to prosecute.
Ms Behan pleaded for leniency from Judge Seán Ó Donnabhain, saying her client had voluntarily deregistered as a social worker and had actually given up the fraud a year before it was discovered by the HSE. She was also deeply remorseful and ashamed of her actions, she said.
Ms Behan said O’Driscoll was going through a marital separation at the time and she asked the judge not to impose a custodial sentence as she had two young sons. Jailing her would have a serious impact on her ex-husband’s ability to continue in work because she cared for the boys, she said.
O’Driscoll had paid back €54,000 and was willing to forfeit a HSE pension worth €15,000, Ms Behan said. And, while she currently was in receipt of social welfare, she was hoping to get a new job and was willing to try to pay back the balance of the outstanding money at a rate of €50 a week, she said.
The judge remanded O’Driscoll in custody for sentence on November 25th, warning her that she should not make any assumptions about avoiding a custodial sentence, such was the enormity of the breach of trust in her offences.