Foster Care Abuse

Many people who end up in the care system as children might have spent time in a foster care placement. Sexual and physical abuse in foster care is, unfortunately, not unusual.

Foster care placements can be short or long-term, and they are often temporary solution for children who cannot live with their own families. Foster care is designed to provide a secure environment for children.

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Foster Care Abuse

Statistics regarding Children in Care and Child abuse cases* in up to and including 2014 indicate that the reasoning for a child or young person being admitted into care would include the following:-

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • neglect
  • parents unable to cope/parental illness
  • parents abusing drugs/alcohol
  • parents suffering psychiatric illness
  • children with emotional/behavioural problems
  • child abandoned/rejected
  • domestic violence
  • pregnancy (of the child)
  • child abusing drugs
  • separated children seeking asylum.

Childline (Ireland) when referring to abuse states:

‘No one has the right to treat you badly. The government should, in every way protect young people from maltreatment, exploitation and abuse. It’s also the government’s responsibility to intervene when parents do not care for or are unable to care for their children.’

The site goes on further to discuss foster homes and adoption and reiterate that:

‘When children and young people are treated so badly in their own homes that they suffer, they have the right to leave and live somewhere where they can have a good life. Children and young people who lack a family environment of their own shall have the opportunity to be adopted.’

Childline states that all adults have a responsibility to make sure a child or young person’s best interests are taken into account and have the right to be safe and be treated well.

According to recently released figures from Tusla (Child and Family Agency), there are currently more than 6,000 children in care in Ireland right now. There were also over 14,000 referrals made to Tusla to the end of the third quarter of last year, because of alleged abuse of a child. There may have been several referrals for the one child.

Tusla is currently underfunded, meaning that many children are taken into care without having a social worker assigned to them or without up-to-date care plans. This can have a hugely detrimental effect on children who have been victims of abuse, as they are in dire need of these supports to offer them some kind of structure to their new lives.

The shocking and indeed staggering revelation however, is that even though when a child is placed in foster care, or the care of the state, it does not necessarily mean they will receive the duty of care that is required/necessary.

Waterford Foster Care Abuse report from HSE still not published

A whistle blower who made claims of horrific sexual and physical abuse at a foster home in the Waterford area over a twenty year period is to receive extracts from a HSE commissioned report into the allegations, three years after it was completed.

The report, conducted by consultant Conal Devine, was launched in 2010 and completed two years later at a cost of €124,797.

The report investigates allegations dating back to the early 1990’s, that an intellectually disabled, non-verbal girl who lived with the foster family was subjected to years of horrific physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Correspondence from whistleblowers tells how the foster carers subjected children to abuse ranging from chronic neglect to sexual abuse. The letter claims that the family was paid by the HSE for taking the children in. The HSE is said to have been offered emergency respite and a residential care bed but refused and instead placed her back in the care of the foster family and no further explanation was requested by the health board. In 1995, officials were ordered by senior social workers to stop placing anyone else with the family and to find alternatives for anyone still living with them while the issues were examined.

A separate ‘look back’ review of all placements with the particular foster family, examines claims that up to 40 intellectually challenged children and adults who stayed at the foster home were emotionally, physically, sexually and financially abused. Some service users remained at the home for years after the initial allegations were made.

The HSE previously justified its non-publication by citing ongoing garda investigations into the case. However, this investigation has concluded and the DPP has ruled that there will be no criminal prosecutions arising.

On foot of this report, heavy criticism has hailed from various TD’s calling for a new HSE policy to stop appointing former staff members to sensitive investigation into alleged failings in the health service. The Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has raised concerns about the use of former health service staff to conduct investigations and the lack of tendering involved.

Who is responsible in the case of Foster Care Abuse?

While the alleged conduct of the foster family should be held to account, one needs to similarly focus their attentions on the actions of the HSE. Responsibility and duty of care lies with this organisation also. They designated these young people to the care of this particular foster family and subsequently returned the children there following flagging of worrying occurrences and injuries sustained.

Case law in the UK including Barrett v Enfield London Borough Council (1999) states that the Local Authority’s breached statutory duty and negligence resulted in severe psychiatric difficulties for the aforementioned plaintiff.

It may not be unreasonable to impose a duty of care on a Local Authority for a child in its care, requiring the conduct of the local authority to be measured against the standards of the reasonable person was in the public interest. Although child protection was multi-disciplinary, the responsibility to the child was ultimately the Local Authority’s.

Similarly, it is also the responsibility of the local authority to assess if it is appropriate to return a child to the care of their biological parents.

In the case of Pierce v Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (2007) the defendant local authority placed Mr Pierce in the care of foster parents in September 1976. He remained there until he was returned to his parents in November 1977. In May 1979, the claimant was found to have a large scald, burn marks and areas of bruising. He was returned home but placed on the defendant’s ‘at risk’ register until 1981. Proceedings brought in 2004 alleged that the local authority had negligently failed to take him into care as an infant and had consequently exposed him to abuse and neglect by his parents.

Finally, in Woodland v Essex County Council (2012) it may now be possible to establish a non-delegable duty on the part of a local authority to provide proper care to children in foster care. A non-delegable duty of care would arise where the claimant is a patient of a child, or for some other reason is especially vulnerable or dependant on the protection of the defendant against the risk of injury.

No one has the right to treat a person badly. Young people should, in every way be protected from maltreatment, exploitation and abuse. It is the government’s responsibility to intervene when a child is not cared for by their parent. All persons have a responsibility to make sure a young person’s best interests are taken into account, having the right to be safe and to be treated well.

We understand that any form of abuse is extremely distressing for the victim and their family, and we deal with each case on a personal, one-to-one basis with compassion and understanding.

If you would like to discuss your situation in complete confidence, please contact Kathrin Coleman by email or FREEphone us on 1800 844 104 .


*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement. This statement is made in compliance with RE.8 of SI 518 of 2002. 

How to make a claim for Foster Care Abuse

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