HSE warned of prosecution risk over foster home in 2008

Former social worker says he raised safety concerns about woman staying in home

A former HSE social worker says he warned in 2008 that if a young woman was not removed from a foster home at the centre of serious sex abuse concerns, the HSE could be prosecuted.

The woman, known as “Grace”, who had been in the foster home in the southeast since the 1980s, was left there for 13 years after the HSE had ceased all new placements there because of abuse concerns. She was finally removed in 2009.

The social worker, aware of “Grace” from 2007, says he “could not persuade the HSE to take the legal steps necessary to end the placement of the young woman still living in the ‘foster home’ ”.

He says he took “Grace” to hospital twice, when she was at her day service, to have suspicious injuries including “finger-tip type bruising to her . . . breast and thigh” investigated, and he had to return her to the foster placement.


The allegations are laid out in a letter to Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, dated September 30th, 2014. The letter, which was also brought to the attention of Clare Daly TD, has been seen by The Irish Times.

Protected disclosure

The social worker, who has since left the HSE and is now working in another jurisdiction, wrote to the Minister to make a protected disclosure “with reference to . . . concerns regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable adults”.

He says he had been working with the South Eastern Health Board since 2000, and in its adult disability services from 2007. He had been in the post a few weeks when he “discovered that the HSE had left a severely intellectually disabled woman in the care of a former foster carer against whom there were serious allegations of sexual abuse and neglect”.

He says the foster carer had never been properly assessed and the HSE had not visited the home in over six years.

He says he wrote a detailed report in 2008, which involved meeting the mother of another former resident of the foster home. This woman, who spoke to The Irish Times on Saturday about the alleged rape of her daughter with implements, confirmed she spoke to the social worker on several occasions.

“Despite this [report], I could not persuade the HSE to take the legal steps necessary to end the placement of the young woman still living in the ‘foster home’.” He says he contacted Grace’s mother to outline his concerns, but was told by his managers not to contact her again, and that she had complained about him. “This assertion was untrue,” he says.

Reckless endangerment

“I wrote to my line manager to say that if this young woman was not moved from the placement, that we could all be prosecuted for reckless endangerment.” When he did speak to Grace’s mother again, in 2009, informing her of the suspicious bruises, she travelled to the southeast to have her daughter removed from the home, he says.

“The fact is that a wide range of SEHB/HSE employees including senior managers had known about this case since the 1990s, but no one had been prepared to terminate the foster place and move the young woman to a safe accommodation.”

He says his intention is not to blame individuals “but rather the system failures that allowed this situation to persist for nearly 20 years since the initial concerns were raised about the ‘foster’ home’”.

A spokesman said both Mr Varadkar and Minister of State for Primary Care, Mental Health and Disability Kathleen Lynch met the HSE whistleblower, whose allegations were taken “extremely seriously”.

“With the whistleblower’s permission, Ministers Varadkar and Lynch immediately sought detailed information from the HSE, including confirmation that nobody was being placed in the home and that there were no current placements in the home. The HSE confirmed this was the case.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times