Taoiseach pledges to act on foster care abuse report

Leo Varadkar was speaking in Cork today.

The Taoiseach says the government will act on a damning report which has identified “systemic flaws in management” in how the cases of the abuse of three children while in foster care were handled by the HSE and Tusla.

Leo Varadkar said he hasn’t seen the unpublished report yet and doesn’t want to say anything that might re-traumatise those involved in what he described as “a deeply disturbing case”.

But he said the government will study in detail and act on the report once it’s 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.”

He was speaking in Cork this morning in the wake of revelations by RTE Investigates earlier of the details of the report into the handling by both the Health Service Executive and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, of the cases of abuse of children placed in a foster home in Galway.

The report lists a catalogue of failures, which saw three children suffer “grave and heinous sexual abuse” while in the care of the State.

Details of the case were first revealed by RTÉ Investigates in April 2016.

File photo
File photo

A girl placed in the foster home for monthly respite care told her biological mother that she had been sexually abused by a then-teenage son of the foster family.

She also reported that a second girl who had been living with the foster family for over a decade had also been raped by the same son.

The girl’s allegation was assessed by the HSE to be “credible” but at the time, the second girl did not disclose any abuse.

Gardaí sent a file to the DPP but no prosecution followed. The second girl and another foster child, a boy, continued to live with the family.

However, in 2011, the second girl came forward and said she too had been raped, prompting a new garda probe which identified a third victim, another female foster child, who also was regularly raped.

Last year, Keith Burke was found guilty and jailed for the rape and buggery of the three foster girls between 2003 and 2007 when all three were aged under 10.

The report into the HSE and Tusla handling of the cases, which was delayed pending the completion of those criminal proceedings, points to “serious errors of judgement”, “flawed assessment and decision-making” and a “lack of management oversight” at critical points during the Social Work Department’s involvement with the foster family.

It also found that no attempt was made to assess the risk Keith Burke posed to other children in the community.

Meanwhile, Tusla says it accepts the findings of the National Review Panel into a foster home abuse case in Galway.

It says a number of important steps are being taken prior to the publication of the report, including engagements with those affected, to ensure their wellbeing and to limit any adverse effects this situation may have on them.

The Child and Family Agency says the report reflects a certain point in time, prior to the establishment of Tusla, which has resulted in an improvement in standards, staffing and services.

- Additional reporting digital desk

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