The recent revelations that two young women with intellectual disabilities were left in an abusive foster care home despite evidence that it was unsafe again highlights the exceptional vulnerability of our children in the care of the state. The fact that over 40 children with disabilities were placed in this foster care home needs us to re-examine how we ensure that every child in Ireland is protected and safeguarded, in particular those children most vulnerable-children in the care of the state and children who are literally without a voice.

EPIC, as the only organisation that specifically advocates on behalf of children and young people in State Care, knows the importance of listening to each child individually and the significance of having a strong relationship with an independent Advocate as a protective factor against abuse.

In 2009 the Ryan Report made robust recommendations to ensure that every child has a voice, however, the findings of the PAC Committee have illustrated that this has simply not been the case where the abuse of one woman with an intellectual disability occurred up until as recently as 2013. It is important, and indeed necessary, for these young women and their families to receive an official apology, an acknowledgement of the wrong that has been done to them. However, even of greater importance is the necessity to have an independent investigation of how and why this abuse of vulnerable young people was allowed to happen and continue for many years. It is necessary in order to understand how it happened and to prevent it happening now or ever again. As a matter of routine

Young people in foster care are particularly vulnerable and those with disabilities even more so. International studies indicate that children with a disability in the care system are at a higher risk of living in an inappropriate placement and are more susceptible to abuse and neglect compared to non-disabled children. Research carried out shows that there are a number of factors which increase the vulnerabilities of children or young people with disabilities to abuse including: lack of mobility, limited communication, the need for intimate care, lack of awareness, not being consulted about things, lack of communication between professionals, lack of joined up working, and young people not being able to differentiate between right and wrong.

EPIC has seen a significant increase in the numbers of children with disabilities being referred to our Advocacy Service.  Many of these children are in care but some are placed in residential services without any clarity about their legal status. Whilst adults with disabilities have a right to an independent advocate this is not the case for these children

EPIC believes that there are a number of key actions which would provide greater protection to children in care, and particularly to those most vulnerable, those with disabilities.

These include:

  • EPIC believes an independent inquiry must be carried out to find out why this happened and assurance that this will not happen again. We have seen report after report published, now is the time for actions to be implemented.
  • Every child having access to a social worker. Yet Tusla reports, as recently as October 2015, show that 7% or 443 children in care had no allocated social worker.
  • Every child having a Care Plan which is regularly monitored – – 9% or 544  children in foster care were without a care plan (Tusla, October 2015)
  • Adequate resourcing for HIQA to carry out regular inspections of Foster Care which would include meeting with children, foster carers and their families and ensuring that children with disabilities are communicated with effectively . Inspections of services are carried out without this happening.
  • Every child with a disability should have a statutory right to have an independent advocate.
  • There needs to be greater cooperation and joined up services between Tusla and the HSE to ensure that children with disabilities do not fall through the gaps in services

Foster carers must be able to provide children with warm and nurturing relationships in order for them to achieve positive outcomes. (

As corporate parent the State has a statutory and moral responsibility for the protection and welfare of all children in its care.  It has failed to do this in the past and needs to act now to make sure that we do not repeat the failures of the past and allow this horrendous abuse of our most vulnerable children to happen again.

Jennifer Gargan,
Empowering people in care

086 607 3866



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