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Dublin: 9°C Monday 25 October 2021

Children left with foster family for years after serious sex abuse allegations

An RTÉ programme alleged children were left with a foster family for several years despite abuse claims.

A NEW RTÉ investigation has raised further serious questions over standards and procedures in the foster care system.

The Investigations Unit report, broadcast last night on Prime Time, alleges children were left with a foster family for several years despite serious allegations of sexual abuse.

Independent child welfare expert Kieran McGrath, who spoke to the programme, said the report raised serious questions about how the claims were handled.

Asked about the claims detailed, a spokesperson for child and family agency Tusla said it was aware of the programme and that it would be issuing a press statement this morning. A spokesperson for the HSE referred all queries to Tusla.

Failure to Foster Care - RTE Investigations Unit 1 Source: RTE - Failure to Foster

The case detailed in the programme concerns a foster family in the west of the country. It’s claimed children were left in the family’s care despite serious allegations of sexual abuse against one family member.

The foster family at the centre of the case continued to provide some support services to a child until recently.

Serious allegations 

Concerns were first raised in 2007 when a young girl in respite care with the family said she had been abused by a family member, then aged 18.

The girl also claimed that a second girl, who had been with the family for several years, had been abused by the same family member. Inquiries by the HSE found the girl’s claims to be “credible,” the programme reported.

As the HSE and gardaí launched investigations into the girl’s disclosure it was decided that two other foster children, including the second girl and a boy who the programme producers called ‘Daniel’ should remain with the family.

gs Source: RTE - Failure to Foster

At a meeting held two months after the initial claims were made, a care plan was agreed and it was decided the alleged abuser should not be left alone with the children.

A file was sent to the DPP, but there were no prosecutions in the case.

The programme reported that four years later the second girl mentioned in the initial complaint also alleged she had suffered sexual abuse by the same member of the family.

She was then removed from the family.

It was also decided that the boy should be removed, but it was almost a year before that removal took place.

The programme reveals the HSE also “failed to inform ‘Daniel’s’ birth mother ‘Gráinne’ about the latest abuse allegations in a timely manner – in fact she was only told about them by a HSE staff member nearly five months later”.

grainne Source: RTÉ - Failure to Foster Care

Despite the decision to remove him and the serious nature of the claims it was decided last year that ‘Daniel’ could return again to the same foster home. He continued to receive part-time care until recently, it was reported.

Kieran McGrath, the independent child welfare expert who spoke to the programme, said it “does not make sense” that Daniel was not screened.

“Even if you may think the risk is low, in those circumstances he should be screened, he is living there, he is in the care of the State. We have a duty of care to him,” he added.

Over 70 charges were brought against the member of the foster family accused of abuse, the programme reported. The charges relate to three victims who had received foster or respite care.

‘Gráinne’ – who had contact with her son throughout his time in foster care – told the programme she had wanted to keep him safe in the hope that he would be placed with a loving family “until I was able to get back on my feet”.

Speaking about the delay in informing her about the abuse allegations in 2011 she said:

I can’t describe how it feels for you to hear that your son is at risk, was left at risk, I couldn’t understand why they’d left him in that placement from the time that the little girl made these allegations and that they were only just telling me now.

Child protection 

McGrath said the foster care system did a fantastic job most of the time, “however it has the potential to go seriously wrong”.

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon told the programme he couldn’t comment on specific cases, but spoke in general about child welfare and the foster system at several points in the report. He stated:

We commit in our child protection legislation to take a positive approach to protecting children, if the State fails to discharge that obligation it is a spectacular failure on the part of the State to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens – our children.

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