Twenty years ago, family of foster home abuse victim told authorities no more children should be put at risk there

An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Sunday Times and Irish Mail on Sunday on February 14.

If you want to see the background to it, here’s a documentary that I worked on with producer Dave Doran, which was broadcast originally in April of 2015:

A FAMILY wrote to the health board at the centre of the foster care scandal almost twenty years ago pleading that no more children be placed in the house.

The allegation was investigated at the time but vulnerable youngsters continued to be placed in the care centre, including one victim who ended up being left there for almost twenty years.

The daughter in this latest family had stayed in the foster care home in the early 1990s for short periods before the family moved from Ireland to the UK.

Several years later, they were planning a return trip to Ireland and the girl’s mother suggested they would pay a visit to the foster family.

Their daughter broke down in tears and disclosed how she had been sexually assaulted in care. Unlike many of the other children in the care home who were victims of abuse, she was able to describe in detail what had happened.

A detailed letter outlining the allegation of sexual abuse was sent to the South Eastern Health Board in 1996 by her mother in which she explained what had happened.

However, the family ended up waiting almost twenty years for an apology, which arrived in the post from the HSE earlier this month.

Speaking for the first time, the mother in the case said she had concerns when her daughter would come home from the foster care family.

“I did, she was completely different when she came home, and she started screaming, and never told me what was wrong until [much later].”

When they were planning a return visit to Ireland, she suggested they might pay the family a visit for a day.

“We were living over here [the UK] at the time when I said it; she panicked, she started roaring crying, said she didn’t want to go there anymore.

“I did send a letter to the [Health Board]: they responded, they got the police over here to call on me and they did call on me but I really didn’t — I didn’t want her to have to go through that.”

A letter was sent to the South Eastern Health Board via social services in the UK, in which the family specifically said that they did not want this to happen to any other child.

It was only years later when the family were horrified to discover that other vulnerable youngsters had continued to be placed in the foster care setting, with one still there as recently as 2013.

“I said in my letter that I didn’t want anybody else to go in but it was all swept under the carpet and they still let families go up there, children go up there. It’s just shocking,” said the mother.

Earlier this month, they finally received an apology from the HSE twenty years after their plea could — and should — have saved any other children from the risk of further abuse.

“I’m after getting a letter from [them] and they have admitted it and apologised. At least they have apologised after all this time,” she said. “No amount of money could undo the damage that was done to all of those children, it’s just heart-breaking.”

At least 47 vulnerable youngsters, many with significant intellectual disabilities, were placed in the foster home between 1983 and 1995.

At least three of them — including in this case — have resulted in complaints of serious sexual abuse.

The most high-profile case involves a victim ‘Grace’ who was left in the foster placement, even after a decision that no further children should be cared for there.

After the complaint from this case arrived from the UK, the South Eastern Health Board made a decision to remove ‘Grace’ from the foster home. A decision was also made that no other children would be placed there.

The family appealed the decision to remove ‘Grace’ but were unsuccessful and it was upheld but subsequent to that and for reasons that have never been explained, it was decided she would remain there.

‘Grace’ ended up staying there for two decades until two new social workers began to raise serious concerns about her case and she was removed.

The HSE in a statement confirmed that they had issued an apology to the family earlier this month almost two decades after the abuse was first reported.

They said: “While there was a prima facie indication of wrongdoing, information was required to substantiate these allegations.

“The information was collected through the Conal Devine report and the Resilience Ireland report, which the HSE has been constrained from publishing by An Garda Siocháná.

“However, sections of the Conal Devine report were issued under FoI, on foot of a decision by the Information Commissioner, in December 2015. It was in this context that the HSE issued an apology to the families involved.”

The HSE also confirmed that it “would have no challenge to any claims made in this case” made by families on behalf of victims.

They said they would not comment on why the concerns raised by the family had not been acted upon to ensure nobody else was left at risk.

“As explained to the PAC, matters such as this are examined in both the unpublished Conal Devine report and the Resilience Ireland report, and as such the HSE is constrained from commenting at this time,” their statement said.

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