Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Questions (22)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

22. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the recent child sex abuse case at a foster home in County Galway; her further views on whether this case warrants systemic change in child protection services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19097/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

Last week, when the Minister was away, I raised a Topical Issue matter. Normally I am not very successful in getting one selected for discussion, but on that occasion I managed to do so. I am asking the same question again today. It is to ask the Minister to provide her views on the recent child sex abuse case at a foster care home in County Galway; whether she believe the case warrants systematic change in Ireland's child protection services; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I am deeply sorry that the young lives of the three women who were in the foster home in Galway were blighted by abuse. Their devastating experiences while in a foster home in the care of the State are heart breaking. The immense bravery and determination shown by the three young women in this harrowing case is truly incredible. I am sure their strength has been greatly tested in sharing their story and for this, like many others, I thank them. The Deputy has asked if the case warrants systemic change in child protection services. It may do.

The national review panel commenced a review in 2016. The trial has ended and sentencing has taken place; therefore, it is expected to complete its work before the end of the summer. However, this is dependent on the length of time due process takes, as those affected will see the relevant portion of the report before it is finalised. It will examine the facts of the professional decision-making in this specific case. It will focus on the children who remained in the foster home after 2007, when the first disclosures were made.

I believe we should allow the national review panel, chaired by Dr. Helen Buckley, a child protection specialist, to conclude its work. The other members of the panel are Dr. Imelda Ryan, a retired child psychiatrist and specialist in child sexual abuse, and Dr. Ann McWilliams, a retired lecturer in child protection and foster care in the Dublin Institute of Technology and a specialist in foster care. I hope and expect that the review will provide answers. We should wait until we receive it and then assess if a deeper, more forensic examination is needed. I commit to coming back to the House to engage with Deputies when the report is submitted.

Improvements in the oversight of child protection have taken place. The Government, this House and previous Governments have made inroads. This needs to continue. The full commencement of the Children First Act, including the introduction of mandatory reporting, is evidence of this, but we still have a lot of work to do.

I thank the Minister for her response. I do not know if she got to see the programme that aired on RTÉ. To be honest, it was hard to watch. As spokesperson on children, I found it incredibly difficult to watch. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs has done much work on children in foster care and care leavers. We have had it as a central part of our topics for the past two years since the Minister took office. Two things stood out for me. The night the programme aired was the night an apology was issued.

I happened to be at a particular public meeting on the Thursday night after my Topical Issue matter and it came up in conversation. What I did not realise is that the apology never went to the girls. I am not talking out of turn in saying as much this evening. It went out on RTÉ but the girls themselves never received the apology and I cannot understand it. The minimum to which these girls are entitled is an apology to their faces as opposed to one aired on RTÉ. What does the Minister think about that? What does the Minister think about an apology to the girls who were left there, especially since it was only when the story hit the media that the HSE and Tusla decided to render an apology, as opposed to apologising directly to the victims themselves?

I thank the Deputy for those questions. Deputy Rabbitte asked me whether I saw the programme. Yes, I did. Even though I was away I saw the programme. It was very difficult to watch and I have acknowledged the bravery of the young women in coming forward.

Deputy Rabbitte's second question was whether they should have received an apology directly from the HSE. I think so.

I thank the Minister.

That was the question.