Foster care inquiry terms to be approved

Terms of reference for a commission of investigation into alleged sexual abuse of an intellectually disabled girl in a foster home are to be approved by Cabinet this week.

Super Junior Minister for Disabilities Finian McGrath is to bring a memorandum to Cabinet on Wednesday to give effect to a decision by the previous government to hold the commission of inquiry into the case of ‘Grace’, after reports in the Irish Examiner.

Grace was allowed to remain in a Waterford foster home for 14 years after the then health board stopped referring people to it, after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr McGrath confirmed it is his intention to bring the memo to Cabinet, to formally approve the terms of reference.

He is awaiting receipt of a scoping report into the allegations from senior counsel Conor Dignam, who has formulated the terms of the pending inquiry.

“I am waiting for Conor Dignam who will come back with the terms of reference which I then have to bring to Cabinet,” he said.

“Then I go to Oireachtas, seeking sanction to formally establish the commission of inquiry. It is my firm intention to have it set up by the autumn,” Mr McGrath said.

Mr McGrath stressed however that some of the allegations that he has come across in recent weeks, in relation to a second but similar case, are truly appalling.

He was speaking about a case involving an intellectually disabled young woman, known as Mary, who was left in a foster home until earlier this year, despite allegations of abuse first surfacing in 2014.

“I was appalled at what I saw and the allegations contained in the reports. We need to change the mindset toward people with disabilities,” he said.

“They haven’t been treated as the same as other people. The day of treating these people as second-class citizens is over as far as I am concerned. Some of these complaints reflect an attitude toward people with disability. I want to change the mindset around the disability,” he added.

Recently discovered records, obtained by RTÉ’s This Week programme, showed that Mary was left in a foster home for 18 months after abuse allegations were raised about a carer there.

According to minutes of an internal meeting in September 2014, the teenager’s local HSE disability service concluded that the intellectually disabled 19-year-old should be removed from the foster care setting at the centre of the sexual abuse allegations.

In previous statements in May, the HSE said it took action to make Mary safe in February 2016 within a week of its safeguarding team being notified of a risk of abuse.

However, the new HSE files, show its disability services were aware of the risk to the woman 18 months earlier. It is understood that the abuse allegations were made against one of the foster parents by a member of their extended family who also contacted Tusla.

There are no allegations of abuse of any foster children in the home.

The allegations were first raised by Tusla with Mary’s service provider and the HSE in June and July 2014.

A senior manager in Tusla told the HSE in February 2016 that “with hindsight... this advice (to leave her in the home) was incorrect”.

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