Tusla admits failures after children repeatedly raped in State care

National Review Panel to publish ‘scathing’ report on handling of Galway case by agency

In a statement on Thursday, Tusla accepted the findings and said steps have since been taken to improve standards.

In a statement on Thursday, Tusla accepted the findings and said steps have since been taken to improve standards.

 

Tusla, the child and family agency, has admitted it failed to protect three children who were repeatedly raped by a teenager while in the care of the State between 2003 and 2007.

The abuse occurred at a foster home in Dunmore, Go Galway, where the foster parents, Kathleen and Gerry Burke, kept both long-term and respite children.

Keith Burke (29) of Addergoolemore, Dunmore, Co Galway, was last year jailed for 7½ years at the Central Criminal Court for the rape of the three girls between 2003 and 2007. He was aged between 14 and 18 at the time, while the girls were all under 10.

In 2007 one of the victims told her biological mother she had been sexually abused by Keith Burke and that a second girl, who had been living with the same family, had also been raped by the same son. Her allegation was assessed by the HSE as being credible. A file was sent to the DPP but no prosecution followed.

A decision was made to allow the other foster child remain with the family.

Tusla referred the case to the National Review Panel (NRP) to investigate how the case was handled.

The panel’s 22-page report, which has yet to be published, is “extremely critical” of the inaction of both the HSE and Tusla to adequately protect the victims, according to RTÉ Investigates which has seen a copy of the report.

The review team said “serious errors of judgment” occurred; there was “flawed assessment and decision-making” and a “lack of management oversight” at critical points. They found the initial assessment of the foster family was brief and the family were never again reviewed, not even following the credible report of abuse from the first girl.

It was also critical of allowing other children remain in the foster home following the making of that credible allegation.

Ronan Hynes, a solicitor representing two of the victims, said the contents of the report call into serious question the ability of State agencies to properly exercise their statutory functions which were to improve outcomes for children.

He said the report set out how a system designed to protect his clients failed them so badly. It made very grim reading for his clients, he said.

Independent audit

It was critical Tusla moved immediately to implement the recommendations of the review panel, he added. “The time has now come and the report findings certainly warrant that there is an independent audit and review within Tusla carried out by an independent expert to review its system, its structures, its level of resources, to ensure that organisation is indeed fit for purpose to carry out its statutory function which is to protect the welfare and safety of children in this country,” he said.

In a statement on Thursday, Tusla accepted the findings and said steps have since been taken to improve standards.

“We accept the findings and recommendations made by the NRP and key learnings have been identified and are being addressed,” it said.

“We are very mindful of the devastating impact on the victims in this case and the effect that this has had on them, and their families. We now know that the decisions made in 2007 and 2011 were not robust enough to keep the children safe.

Improvements

“However it is important to highlight that this report reflects a certain point in time, prior to the establishment of Tusla which has resulted in an improvement in standards, staffing and services.”

The agency said its social workers have “actively worked” with the young people involved since 2014 “where that’s in line with their wishes”.

“Currently, foster care placements are subject to a number of safeguards including on-going Garda vetting for foster carers and adult family members, regular visits to the household from children’s social workers and foster carers’ social workers, and inspections of fostering services by HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) and in depth aftercare supports,” it said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking in Cork, described the case as “deeply disturbing” and said the Government would act on the report once it is published.

“We should never forget that there are individuals, people who are very damaged by all of this who are still hurting today and we need to make sure that in our comments we don’t do anything that might re-traumatise them,” he said.

“The report hasn’t been published yet. I haven’t seen it myself but it will be published in the next couple of weeks and we will act on it. I don’t want to prejudice what’s in the report having not seen what’s in it. It’s only a leak at this stage.

“But we have made some very significant strides when it comes to child protection in recent years, in particular, the fact that reporting of child abuse is now mandatory, and that was only introduced in the last two years.

“But there is definitely more to be done. As I say, when we have this report it will be studied in detail and the Government will act on it.”