A report published today opens the lid on the shocking abuse and neglect of a child and young adult left languishing in a foster care home, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell
IT IS sickening what the young woman we have come to know as Grace was exposed to for so long.
Born in 1978 as the child of a single mother, Grace was originally put up for adoption, but because of her intellectual disability that fell through. So began a lifetime of neglect at the hands of the State.
Today finally sees the publication of a damning report, which was produced for the HSE in 2012, but has been kept under lock and key since.
The Conal Devine report details shocking abuse and neglect of a child and young adult who was left in a Waterford foster home for almost 14 years after allegations of abuse first surfaced.
The Irish Examiner has seen the report and publishes its findings here today.
In 1989 when she was 11 years old, Grace moved to live with the foster family.
This foster family also looked after other children with disabilities, mostly for short breaks and holidays.
Grace lived with the foster family for 20 years from the age of 11 to 31.
“We think that she suffered abuse while living with this family,” Devine and his team conclude.
The report reveals that her placement in 1989 in the foster home was “supposed to be just a short-term placement”.
The laws governing her care said there should be six-monthly reviews, but there were none.
She stayed living with the foster family throughout the rest of her childhood.
In 1995, when Grace was 17, she started going to a day service.
“At this time she started showing signs of distress through her behaviours. Staff reported that they saw bruises on her body,” the report states.
But much worse emerged.
“In October 1995, while toileting, a large bruise was noticed on her left hip, appears tender to touch.”
Ten days later an incident report stated that “for the first time in day care, Grace completely stripped herself for no apparent reason”. But the report goes on to reveal that a report from seven months previous also referred to bruising on Grace’s body, bad behaviour, poor hygiene and her stripping off her clothes.
“Grace took to stripping off all her clothes both on the bus and at the day centre,” the report reveals.
“On several occasions when she was being bathed, bruising was noticeable on her body. These bruises were brought to the attention of the foster parents. They informed us they couldn’t account for the bruises and said they must have happened when she was on the bus,” adds the report.
In 1996, the mother of a different girl said her daughter had been “sexually molested” while being fostered by the same foster family.
This second allegation was never properly investigated by gardaí because a formal complaint was not made.
Staff from the health services in the area met in April to discuss the situation of Grace. They said that she should move to a new home.
At this stage, the foster family said that they would appeal, and also that they needed time for the family to get used to the young woman leaving their home.
The foster family wrote to health service staff to appeal the decision to remove Grace from the home.
In August 1996, the foster family lost their appeal but wrote to then health minister, Michael Noonan, asking him to change the appeal decision.
This point is to be a matter of key importance to the pending commission of inquiry due to be announced next week.
Following Mr Noonan being lobbied, the Department of Health wrote to the local health service for information.
The report states, that local health service staff wrote back saying the case was under review.
Staff visited the foster home in September and recorded that the foster carers were against moving the young woman, it adds.
However, in October 1996, a review by a three-man panel took place which found that there was no evidence that anything happened to the young woman or that her welfare was not being met by the foster family.
It also found that no other children would be placed there.
The review panel concluded that “the young woman would stay with the foster family, her day services placement would continue and a new key worker be assigned to her case now that she was an adult and transferring to the Adult Mental Handicap Service. They will look at making the young woman a Ward of Court,” the report states.
There were attempts to move the young woman to residential care and away from the foster family. These attempts were always blocked by the foster family. Grace would have to be removed forcibly, the foster mother said.
“There was a failure in the duty of care to the young woman as staff did not do the things that had been decided,” the Devine report concludes.
Staff were worried all this time about the bruises and the long absences when she didn’t go to the day services.
On March 27, 2009, when she was 31, the day services staff saw bruises on her thighs and breasts.
She was sent to hospital which reported the bruising to the gardaí and the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit.
“Marks on her body were deemed to be suspicious and non-accidental,” the report reveals.
In less than a year, records show Grace had suffered severe injuries on seven separate occasions, with repeated marking on her lower back as well as a black eye.
The staff didn’t think that it would be suitable for her to stay in hospital overnight.
Staff tried to find a different place for her to stay that night but there was confusion about what was available.
Shockingly, she was returned to the foster family as it was “deemed as the least worst option”.
But another report from 2008 spoke of Grace being found with marks similar to carpet burns on her back”.
There were growing concerns about her general appearance, including weight, old clothes and untreated dental problems.
Eventually, on July 17, 2009, she was transferred to a residential placement without being made a ward of court. “This could have been done earlier,” the report concludes.
Even the way the young woman was moved was “very poor”, the report states.
Grace left the foster home in the morning thinking that she was just going to the day services.
Instead of going back to the foster home she was transferred to the residential home. Grace was not ready for the move.
The report states that she suffered high anxiety and emotional trauma because of the sudden move.
Alarmingly, the report also refers to what it describes as the foster mother’s suspected fraudulent handling of Grace’s finances during this time.
The report also states that whistleblowers wrote then to then health minister Mary Harney to highlight their concerns ranging from “chronic neglect to sexual abuse” of Grace and others.
They also highlighted failures of authorities to investigate allegations of sexual and physical abuse.
Whistleblowers were told to copy their files connected with this case for fear they would be destroyed or tampered with.
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