House of horrors social workers ‘vilified’

KEY personnel looking after the children in one of the country’s most disturbing abuse cases felt “vilified” and “crucified” and left hung out to dry by health service management when details of the case emerged.

Speaking for the first time about the trauma they endured in the storm of publicity surrounding the Roscommon “house of horrors” abuse case, social workers and childcare staff compared it to being “hit by a train” and “battered from all sides”, with little support coming from their superiors in the HSE.

Paddy Gannon, childcare manager in Roscommon until his retirement last March, said: “Everybody, even more so people above me rather than below me, seemed to be struggling and paralysed with anxiety; there was panic all over the place. Panic about ‘Are there other cases like this?’.

“In the first meeting we went to, the first meeting in the initial review, the message quite clearly from the top was ‘Heads are going to roll here. Careers are over for some in the HSE’.”

Caroline Duignan, a training officer in childcare in Roscommon, said now she is sometimes “nearly afraid to say I’m a social worker”.

Principal social worker in Roscommon Martina McGrath said while she believed they had prepared the children for what might follow the appearance in court of their mother, staff themselves were in no way prepared.

“Every second person (of our existing clients) told us we were useless. We work with resistant people and they enjoyed our humiliation and it made work really, really difficult, and I believe it really challenged staff to work with the clients.

“We had doors closed in our faces, people said: ‘You’re useless, you didn’t protect those children out there’,” said Ms Duignan.

Mr Gannon said there were “major anxiety levels coming at us politically, from the media, colleagues, management of the voluntary organisations, from the entire community — we were not prepared for that.”

He said some staff were still suffering from what he would call “post traumatic stress”.

Mr Gannon, Ms McGrath and Ms Duignan made their comments at a recent child protection and social work conference held in University College Cork at which they were invited to speak.

During a workshop, they outlined their experience of participating in a child abuse inquiry process. All three were quizzed by the inquiry team set up by the HSE to investigate the Roscommon childcare case involving a family of six children whose mother became the first female in the state to be convicted of incest in January 2009.

She was subsequently sentenced to the maximum seven years’ imprisonment on 10 counts of incest, sexual abuse and neglect of her children. The offences took place at the family home in Co Roscommon over a six-year period, when her children were aged six to 15.

The children’s father was jailed for 14 years in March 2010 following his conviction on 47 counts of rape and sexual assault.

A litany of negative reports of the parents’ behaviour was made to the HSE (the then Western Health Board) since the birth of their first child in 1989, but it took 15 years for the children to be taken into care.

In its report published in October 2010, the inquiry team found there was a protracted failure by staff to identify the severity of the neglect and abuse suffered by the children.

Picture: A cut out of the front page of the Irish Examiner on January 23, 2009

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