Kenny apologises for ‘disgraceful’ treatment of ‘Grace’ in foster care

Two reports published on alleged abuse say four other cases must be examined

At the launch of the publication of the HSE reports in Kilkenny are Tess O Donovan, assistant National Director HR ,Dr Cathal Morgan Head of Operations HSE Disability Services. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

At the launch of the publication of the HSE reports in Kilkenny are Tess O Donovan, assistant National Director HR ,Dr Cathal Morgan Head of Operations HSE Disability Services. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has publicly apologised to ‘Grace’ who was allegedly sexually and physically abused at a southeast foster home.

“Her treatment was a disgrace to us as a country,’’ he said .

The intellectually disabled woman remained in the care of the foster family for more than 20 years despite allegations of serious sexual abuse.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil on Tuesday the Government was committed to the establishment of a commission of investigation and the Cabinet would discuss the terms of reference next week.

Two reports, the Devine and Resilience reports were published on Tuesday. At thelaunch the HSE repeated earlier apologies for failings in the care of vulnerable adults in foster care in the south-east.

Dr Cathal Morgan, head of operations, at HSE disability services said he wanted to offer a “heartfelt and unreserved” apology for the failings in care that occurred and the failure to keep people safe.

The inquiries have recommended the cases of four others who were cared for in the same home be examined.

These include the case of a man who alleges he was locked in a cupboard by the family. The investigations found 47 children with profound intellectual disabilities aged between four and 17 were placed in the care of this family from 1985 to 2013.

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”. The service had not waited for this to happen to make improvements.

“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 told the press conference in Kilkenny. An office of independent confidential recipient for whistleblowing allegations had also been established.

Aileen Colley, chief officer of the HSE community healthcare organisation in the south-east, 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 Health Service Executive (HSE) has denied that concerns over the care of vulnerable adults in foster care in the south-east were covered up in any way.

Disciplinary review

Senior officials said the publication of reports 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 the 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.

The Devine report completed in 2012 cost €125,000 plus €33,000 in legal fees, while the Resilience report from 2015 cost €99,000 plus €178,000 in legal fees, officials said.

Four others

Both reports stress the cases of four other “service users” require further investigation including one report of sexual molestation, claims of physical abuse and an allegation from one man that he was locked in a cupboard by the family.

The family was not given permission to care for adults or to care for more than two children at any one time.

However, this was “breached on a number of occasions” and complaints of overcrowding were consistently made to both inquiry teams.

In 1985 the foster family provided placements to at least 14 children for an average of one week per child. In 1986 it cared for at least 19 children.

In 1987 it provided placements for at least 20 children, with one child staying for 10 months.

The Resilience Ireland report found the health services in the area did not check who was living in the house, their gender and ages, the sleeping arrangements or their living conditions.

Both reports centre on the case of “Grace” who was placed there in 1989, when she was 11, and stayed there for 20 years – until she was 31, despite allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

A Garda investigation into allegations she was sexually abused is ongoing.

The report by Conal Devine found that reviews, which are supposed to take place every six months, did not occur.

Who was Grace?

In 1995, Grace, who was 17, began visiting a day service. Staff noticed distress and bruises on her body.

A year later the mother of a different service user said that her daughter had been abused while in the care of the same foster family.

It was agreed at that point that Grace should be removed from the care home. However, she remained there for a further 13 years.

In August 1996 the foster family wrote to the then minister for health Michael Noonan asking him to reverse the decision of the local health services to remove Grace.

Health board staff wrote back saying the case was under review by them and a month later it was agreed Grace would remain in the home.

That same year another health board case review was carried out and it was agreed that no other child should be placed there.

However, staff did not follow up on these recommendations and Grace remained in the care of the foster family.

The daycare centre continued to complain of injuries the young woman had suffered including bruising to her breast and once a black eye.

On one occasion in 2009 bruises were found on Grace’s thighs and breasts and she was sent to hospital.

There were no places in any other residential facility available for her to stay when she left hospital so she was returned to the family.

Four months later she was removed from their care and placed in a residential facility.

Mr Devine found a litany of failures including no clear record of key decisions taken at meetings about the young woman’s care, new staff not being informed and no follow-up to concerns raised by day service staff.