HSE denies cover-up of concerns about people in foster care
Disability head offers ‘heartfelt and unreserved’ apology for failings in ‘Grace’ case
Dr Cathal Morgan, head of operations at HSE Disability Services, at the launch of the publication of the HSE South East disability foster care reports in Kilkenny. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Health Service Executive has denied that concerns over the care of vulnerable people in foster care in the south-east were covered up.
Senior officials speaking at the launch of two reports into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at a foster home in the region said their publication has cleared the way for an immediate disciplinary review of staff involved.
However, they were unable to say how long this review, which could result in sanctions up to dismissal, will take.
Dr Cathal Morgan, head of operations, HSE disability services, welcomed the Government’s plan to establish a commission of investigation into the affair as the most appropriate forum to fully investigate the allegations.
Dr Morgan said that on his assessment of events, there was no basis for claiming a cover-up had occurred.
The HSE maintains it was unable to begin a disciplinary review until the report had been published and provided to staff. Now that this has occurred, the review can begin immediately, it says.
“We can’t disrupt the process that is in place. It is important we stick to fair procedures, even if it may take a little longer,” said HSE director of communications Paul Connors.
Mr Connors said the HSE would appreciate a “conversation” with Government over what can be done to speed up disciplinary processes in the public service.
Just five of the HSE staff who worked with the vulnerable adults in foster care who feature in the two reports are still with the Service, officials told a press conference in Kilkenny. Some have moved to the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, while others have retired or are working elsewhere.
HSE disciplinary processes do not apply to staff who have left the service, even if they are working elsewhere in the public service.
Aileen Colley, chief officer of the HSE community healthcare organisation in the south-east, said those staff still working with the HSE had been assessed and none of them is now working with children.
The three staff who sat on the panel in 1996 that decided not to remove the vulnerable child known as “Grace” from foster care despite concerns over her welfare are no longer working with the HSE, she said.
Grace is an intellectually disabled woman who remained in the care of the same foster family over more than 20 years despite allegations of serious sexual abuse.
Officials repeated earlier apologies for failings in the care of the vulnerable adults who stayed in the foster home.
Dr Morgan said he wanted to offer a “heartfelt and unreserved” apology for the failings in care that occurred and the failure to keep people safe.
“It is patently obvious that action could have been taken and it would have made a difference. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that you act when there is a risk.”
Dr Morgan said the HSE had wanted to publish the reports, which date from 2012 and 2015, for “quite some time” but had been prevented from doing so for “specific legal reasons”.
“I’m not going to excuse what happened. However, it is important to draw attention of the public and to point out there have been improvements made.”
These include new organisational structures, a national foster care audit and an audit of child protection services, he said. An office of independent confidential recipient for whistleblowing allegations had also been established.
Ms Colley said funding for disability services in the area had increased by 21 per cent since 2011. A new senior management team for disability has been put in place, and a disability services manager and principal social worker appointed.
A focus on training has led to increased responsiveness and there has been a growth in advocacy services for people with disabilities.
Ms Colley also apologised for the failings in care that had occurred and said the HSE welcomed the commission of investigation due to begin shortly into the controversy.
The two reports just published by the HSE include the Conal Devine report completed in 2012 which cost €125,000 plus €33,000 in legal fees, while the Resilience Ireland report from 2015 cost €99,000 plus €178,000 in legal fees, officials said.