Claire O’Sullivan on the key questions that need to be answered.
Under the 1991 Child Care Act, the former health boards (now Tusla, the Child and Family Agency) had a statutory duty to promote the welfare of children who were not receiving adequate care and protection.
Grace was never going to receive the necessary “care and protection” from her birth mother who had decided during pregnancy to put her up for adoption.
Due to Grace’s disability, this planned adoption fell through and so Grace was placed in the care of her local health board. They were to act ‘in loco parentis’ and ensure this vulnerable girl’s “care and protection”.
Instead, they failed her time and time again. In 1989, they sent the mute 11-year-old to a foster home, suppos-edly on a short-term placement. She would remain there for 20 years because of what can only be described as statutory neglect or reckless endangerment.
- Why wasn’t an assessment ever made of this foster family as per boarding out regulations? Why didn’t the obligatory home visit take place prior to the placement of Grace? Why didn’t the regulatory two-month visit after initial placement take place and regular six-month reviews by childcare staff thereafter?
- A year after Grace arrived at the foster family, the Brothers of Charity stopped using this family for respite care when a social worker observed other adults, beyond the family, living on the premises. Why didn’t the health board conduct a full review of Grace’s placement then?
- When it was revealed that she hadn’t attended her special school for nearly a year, due to transport problems, why wasn’t a review of the placement conducted? At this point, her day school was asking questions about bruising and signs of neglect. Why weren’t these concerns which were to persist for another 20 years, not acted on by the health board in charge of her ‘care and protection’?
In April 1996, a decision was made to remove Grace from the foster home after complaints were made that a girl had been abused while being fostered at the home.
Six months later, she still hadn’t been removed and then, inexplicably, a decision was made at a case conference not to remove her but to stop other children being placed there. She was to be put on a waiting list for a residential centre.
- The case conference noted that “there is no evidence that anything happened to (Grace) or that her wellbeing or welfare [was] not being met?” How did they decide she was receiving proper care? No such evidence was available to the Devine investigation. Where are these records? Who sat on this three-person panel who decided to keep Grace in this home?
- One of the key recommendations from that case conference was to consider making Grace a ward of court as she was due to turn 18. Who was charged with following this up? Why can’t any records from the meeting identify this person? Did any manager check why this hadn’t been followed up?
- Eight years later, Grace was taken off the waiting list for a residential place following agreement by her foster mother. How could social work staff do this when a cursory review of her file would show her foster mother had always been opposed to her moving?
- In 2008, her birth mother gave permission for her to be moved from the foster family. Why wasn’t that acted upon?
- Why did HSE legal services not sort out the 13 years of staff wrangling over whether Grace needed to be made a ward of court before she was put in a residential centre?
- Who was ultimately responsible for the decision to send Grace back to the foster family on the very night that day services staff had sent her to hospital because of bruised thighs and breasts, injuries that led to her being sent to the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit? Why weren’t respite solutions suggested by day services not followed up on? Where are the records outlining the decision-making process that night?
- How can the HSE justify three of the five individuals under disciplinary review for their handling of the Grace case working in management and policy formation of vulnerable adults at risk of abuse?
- Why did the HSE not follow up on whistleblower’s claims of a cover-up?
- Why did it take so long for disciplinary action to begin when the Devine and Inclusion Ireland reports were completed years ago?