'I was told she was happy' - Mother of disabled child abused for 20 years by Irish foster family breaks silence

'I was told she was happy' - Mother of disabled child abused for 20 years by Irish foster family breaks silence

THE mother of 'Grace', the child with intellectual disabilities who suffered sexual abuse while homed with a foster family for 20 years, has broken her silence and said she does not accept the apology from the Health Service Executive. 

The mother, who has not been named to protect her daughter's identity, made the comments in a interview with RTÉ Investigates reporter Aoife Hegarty on Claire Byrne Live.

The interview follows the publishing of two reports investigating the abuse 'Grace,' so called by the Irish media, suffered from the late 80s until her eventual removal in 2009. 

Excerpts from the interview were broadcast on RTÉ's Morning Ireland yesterday morning ahead of the screening of the full interview last night.

Born in 1978 with microcephaly to a young single mother, Grace was placed in different foster homes until aged 11 when she was placed with a foster family in the south eastern region of Ireland.

However, due to home-schooling with the foster family, it was only when she began attending day centre services in 1995 aged 17 did she display signs of abuse through bruising on her arms and hips and the removal of her clothes at the centre, on the transport bus and at home.

In March 1996, a mother of another child based in Britain alleged that while her child had lived in Ireland and was placed on respite with Grace’s foster family, she had been molested.

The allegation was made through a letter from the mother forwarded through the British social services.

Subsequently the Health Service met to discuss Grace’s removal from the home.

However, months later it was decided there was no evidence to suggest that anything of the nature of the allegations happened to Grace and she remained with the family.

Over the course of the next 13 years, numerous attempts were made to remove Grace from the foster family into residential care all of which were blocked by the foster family.

During 2007 and 2008, Grace’s mother was contacted where she lived in London and she gave her consent for her daughter to be moved into a residential placement although disagreements between staff delayed this move for over a year.

During this time Grace presented at the day care centre with bruising on her thighs and breasts.

Staff at the centre took Grace to a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, and notified gardaí, however they later decided to return her to the foster family.

Eventually in July 2009, Grace was finally removed from the foster family and moved into residential care.

'I was told she was happy'

In the interview with RTÉ, Grace's mother has said she was never told of any sexual abuse allegations until 2009.

She says she was told that Grace was in a loving foster home, and she does not accept the apology the HSE have given for her daughter's care.

"My understanding back then before all the allegations was that she was happy and attending her day services, she was just in a loving, caring home and that made me happy knowing she was happy.

"That's what I was led to believe, and what I was always old," her mother said.

During the interview, summarised in parts by reporter Aoife Hegarty on Morning Ireland, Grace's mother regularly phoned for an update and to check on her daughter's welfare, and all contact was initiated by Grace's mother.

She was always told Grace as doing well and was never told of any sexual abuse allegations until 2009, when she was informed of abuse allegations and demanded Grace's immediate removal from the home.

"I got one letter [of apology] a while back," Grace's mother said, "but I felt in my heart that it wasn't coming from the heart."

"I don't accept that apology, no one from the HSE picked up a phone and apologised to me or asked how am I doing, nobody has ever done that for me and I don't accept their apology.

"I don't trust them, or what they have to say.

"The past nine years have been a living hell for me and that's the only way I can describe it and it's still that way."

'The HSE will cooperate in every way' 

In a statement to The Irish Post, the HSE have said they "regret but understand" why Grace's mother cannot accept their apology but that she will get any answers she may need in the upcoming Commission of Inquiry into Grace's case.

"It is genuinely to our regret but we understand why Grace’s mother cannot accept our apology now. We do hope that in the future she may be in a position to do so.

"What is most important is that any questions she has which remain to be answered, that she will get those answers from the objective viewpoint of the upcoming Commission of Inquiry.

"Grace’s mother can be assured that the HSE will co-operate in every way to assist the Commission of Inquiry fulfil its Terms of Reference.

"The fact she and others have so many unanswered questions is indicative of just how complex this matter is over a 20 year period.

"All that we know and can find to date is in the two reports published and in the Conor Dignam report which the Government commissioned as a precursor to the Commission of Inquiry.

"Once again the HSE can only apologise to Grace and her mother and say that we genuinely are very sorry for all of the failings in her care and in our system."