‘Mary’ case referred to Garda over reckless endangerment claims

Minister for Children referred case to gardaí in 2018 following whistleblower disclosure

The child, Mary*, and her sister Claire*, were “failed consistently” by the State, while in the foster care of their grandparents in a rural area, from 2000 to 2014, an independent review found. Illustrative photograph: Getty

The child, Mary*, and her sister Claire*, were “failed consistently” by the State, while in the foster care of their grandparents in a rural area, from 2000 to 2014, an independent review found. Illustrative photograph: Getty

 

The State’s handling of a case where a child was left in a foster home suffering severe emotional abuse and “gross neglect,” despite numerous reports of abuse over a decade, was referred to An Garda Síochána.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone referred the case to gardaí in 2018, following a whistleblower disclosure alleging the case may have constituted “reckless endangerment” of the child by Tusla staff.

The child, Mary*, and her sister Claire*, were “failed consistently” by the State, while in the foster care of their grandparents in a rural area, from 2000 to 2014, an independent review found.

The review of Mary’s case, details of which were revealed by The Irish Times on Monday, found she had been “subjected to gross physical and emotional neglect . . . due to a persistent failure by her relative foster carers to meet even her most basic needs for food, shelter, hygiene and emotional warmth” for more than a decade.

Ms Zappone was made aware of the case in November 2016, when a whistleblower made a protected disclosure. The Minister passed the matter to the Garda last year, according to emails from a senior department official.

‘Very distressing’

Speaking in Galway on Monday, Ms Zappone said it was “very distressing” to read about the case again.

“Of course I’m very aware of those issues. With foster care placement, the ideal practice is to ensure siblings are together and if at all possible with relatives,” she said.

“There have been circumstances in the past, and that’s what this report demonstrates, that terrible neglect has happened in relation to the children.

“Upon the receipt of that report I went to Tusla to see what had happened by way of response to the report, I understand it came out in 2015, and was assured that many of the recommendations had been put in place and that more recently a Hiqa inspection has happened in that region and that foster care standards have improved.”

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said it was “very distressing” to read about the case again. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said it was “very distressing” to read about the case again. Photograph: Dave Meehan

The confidential review, conducted by childcare expert Lynne Peyton in 2015, found Mary and her sister should have been removed from the home in 2003. Despite a decade of worsening reports of abuse and severe neglect, they were not moved until 2014.

Following an initial protected disclosure in late 2016, the whistleblower – who previously worked for Tusla at a senior level – repeatedly petitioned Ms Zappone to begin an investigation into the findings of the case review, according to correspondence.

The whistleblower claimed the failure to remove Mary from the home, despite numerous reports of child abuse, could constitute “reckless endangerment” by Tusla staff. The agency took over responsibility for social work services from the Health Service Executive in 2014.

In a letter last October, senior department official Éimear Fisher told the whistleblower that Ms Zappone had referred the matter to gardaí, “given the seriousness of this allegation”.

The whistleblower’s disclosure alleged several staff members were penalised by the agency for raising concerns about child-protection standards in a particular region of Ireland.

Independent consultant

In mid-2017, Tusla’s board sent up a special enquiries committee to deal with the disclosure, and advised the whistleblower an independent consultant would be tasked with investigating the claims.

However, the consultant’s terms of reference stated any claims in the disclosure “relating to child protection and welfare are outside the scope of this investigation, and are being addressed separately by Tusla”.

When asked what this separate process was, a Tusla spokeswoman said a “service-improvement plan was put in place in the area, and progress made by management and staff addressed any issues present”.

Asked if any investigation had been launched specifically into the handling of Mary’s case, a department spokesman said it would be “inappropriate” to comment as the protected disclosure was under examination.

* Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ anonymity.