‘Grace’ inquiry must include every player in this appalling saga
Broad investigation into abuse allegations required to deliver lessons we need to learn
Were individuals at fault in this saga, or was there systemic bad governance?
If we truly want to learn from the appallingly bad decisions made in the life of “Grace” we must also face the context in which they were made.
New terms of reference for the commission of inquiry into the “Grace” case are being drawn up following criticism that those published on Tuesday were “too narrow”.
Opposition TDs argued that the parameters must expand to include not only “Grace” (not her real name) but also 46 other children and young adults who spent time at the southeast “foster” home, and the two whistleblowers who brought Grace’s plight to light.
It is important that the other 46 are included, not only to establish whether they suffered abuse, but also to establish whether there was a pattern in how allegations of abuse at the home were handled.
What we know is that Grace was placed in care by her teenage mother in the late 1970s. Grace has a severe intellectual disability and cannot speak. She spent time in a number of care settings before being placed in the “foster” home by the then South Eastern Health Board (SEHB) in 1989, when aged 10 to 11.
She stayed there for 20 years, despite credible allegations of serious sexual abuse at the home. We know one was made in 1992 from the family of another girl who stayed in the home. We know another, from a family in England, was made in 1996. Concerns had also been raised by the Brothers of Charity, who stopped placing young people in the home in 1991.
Importantly, this was not a foster home. It was neither assessed nor approved as such. It was a privately operated respite service in a family home.
A plan drawn up in 2001 to gradually remove Grace from the home was not implemented.
The first whistleblower, new to the region, took up Grace’s case in 2007. His view was that the “foster” home was inappropriate and Grace should be removed. His recommendation that the HSE apply for her wardship was not acted on.
In the end he contacted Grace’s birth mother in 2009 and told her of the concerns about sexual abuse. It was the first she heard of these. She demanded her daughter be removed immediately and she was, on July 17th, 2009.
Crucially, were individuals at fault in this saga, or was there systemic bad governance? Was there a culture more focused on concealing this bad governance than on Grace’s welfare ?
Uncomfortably, does this culture continue? Does it go beyond “Grace”?