The case of ‘Grace’: a pattern of failure

Lack of investment in care sector leaves children at risk

 

The alleged abuse of an intellectually disabled young women known as “Grace” at a foster home in the south east appears to be one of the most shocking examples of how the State authorities failed in their duty to protect a vulnerable young person. The really worrying aspect of the case is that this did not happen decades ago when Ireland was a very different place but in recent years when the lessons of the past should have been learned.

The cabinet has agreed to establish a commission of investigation into the case and there have been calls for its terms of reference to be widened to include all 47 children and young adults who spent time at that foster home.

Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath has pledged that no one will be excluded from the process and that the voices of all families who want to be heard will be heard. This is a welcome statement from the Minister whose political credibility is dependent on delivering for the disability sector. He has also pledged that once the truth is established, decisive action will follow. Time will tell in this regard but past experience is not encouraging.

Although it is important that all who had experience of the foster home in question get to have their say, the priority is to quickly establish the facts of what happened in the “Grace” case. Three reports have been carried out into the treatment of the young woman. Two were published by the Health Service Executive (HSE) last week, years after their completion. It is time for a conclusive explanation as to what happened to “Grace” and the failures in the system that allowed her to languish in a clearly unsuitable environment for so long after initial concerns were raised.

As an infant “Grace” was sent to a number of short-term placements before being placed full time with a foster family in the south-east in 1989, when she was 10 years old. She was to remain with this family for 20 years until July 2009, when she was removed from the foster home by the HSE. Concerns were raised about her condition over these years and there were discussions among social care staff about her case.

In 1996 a claim of sexual abuse involving another resident in the foster home was received and a decision to move “Grace” was taken. However, this was subsequently overturned after an appeal by the foster parents and she remained in the home until 2009 when she was moved to a residential placement.

The “Grace” case reveals the same pattern of failure and delay that was evident in a series of scandals in the social services that go back as far as the Kilkenny incest report of 1993. There is still no sign of the State investing the kind of resources into this sector that could result in decisive, system-wide change. The result is that children remain at risk.

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