Michael Noonan, Minister for Health (1994-1997)
‘Grace’ was born to a single mother in the southeast of Ireland in the late 1970s. She was supposed to be put up for adoption but, instead, was put into foster care soon after her birth.
She was born with microcephaly and was mute.
From 1989 until 2009, Grace lived with a set of foster parents.
The foster father – who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1999 and who died in 2000 – was accused of sexually abusing another child in their care in 1996, at which point it was decided that no more children would be placed in their care.
So, why did Grace live there for another 13 years?
What effect did two letters sent to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who was then the Minister for Health – calling on him to intervene and to reverse a decision to remove Grace from the home – play in the ultimate reversal of that decision?
Why did a school principal lobby the Minister Noonan about the case, in favour of the foster parents?
And why did the health board say this principal’s view would be taken into account in “reaching their recommendations in relation to the future care of [Grace]”?
The partially redacted and anonymised HSE-commissioned Conal Devine report, which was completed in 2012 and only published on Tuesday, states the following:
1989: Grace started to live with this set of foster parents on the premise that she would remain there until a residential place was made available for her. She was on a waiting list for such a place.
There is no evidence that the foster parents were assessed at any level as required under the Boarding Out of Children Regulations 1983 or that references were obtained as per those regulations.
There’s also no evidence of any documented visit by the health board to determine the suitability of the home before Grace went to live there.
September 1989: A visit by health professionals is made to the foster home and while the location is praised, there are concerns raise about the following: a lack of other children with whom Grace could socialise; the age of the foster father; and the fact Grace isn’t attending school.
December 1989: The foster parents are informed that a school place has been reserved for Grace from the middle of December.
November 1990: Following a visit to the home, it is noted that Grace hasn’t been back to school since Christmas 1989.
Apparently the reason for the poor school attendance is transport problems but there is no evidence of any effort being made to deal with whatever the obstacles are.
1991: There are no documented six monthly reviews, as required by law, and there is still no evidence of any efforts to accommodate Grace’s school needs.
1992: A request is made for a residential placement for Grace from a residential facility in the birth mother’s home town. The name of the person or organisation that made the request is redacted in the report.
1993: No evidence of any activity around Grace and no documented review visits, as required per law.
1994: There were brief handwritten notes indicating two possible home visits – one on Feb 13 and one on June 17. But no evidence of any documented review visits as per law.
1995: A residential placement for Grace in an area outside of the immediate health board is sought for Grace and it’s noted that this request is due to the foster parents “becoming elderly”. Again the name of the person or organisation who sought the placement is redacted in the report.
May 1995: A psychological assessment notes Grace hasn’t really progressed intellectually or in terms of self care skills since her previous assessment some six year previous, in 1989. It is noted she would benefit from regular attendance at a day care facility – in terms of stimulation and social contact.
However, during a home visit in August 1995, it is noted the foster father did not agree to Grace going to a “workshop” because “there was nothing could be done with her”.
Despite this stance, it was organised for Grace to go to a day care facility. She starts attending the facility on September 4, 1995.
October 17, 1995: During a home visit, it is noted that Grace is taking her clothes off when she gets home in the evening.
October 19, 1995: An incident report from the day care facility, states: “While toileting Grace in the arm, large bruise noticed on left hip, appears tender to the touch. Bruises noticed also on the left elbow and right elbow just visible and not tender to touch. In good form”.
October 25, 1995: Another incident report form, from the facility, states: “For the first time in [the facility] while on social programme training…Grace completely stripped herself for no apparent reason, notified previously of these stripping incidents at home by [redacted]”.
March 1996: The mother of a female service user, at this point living in the UK, claims her daughter was sexually molested while she had spent a week on holiday/respite at Grace’s foster home.
The Devine report notes there was no substantive investigation in respect of this sex abuse complaint.
April 2, 1996: Further to the UK complaint a meeting takes place between the relevant health board professionals. At this meeting, it’s decided that Grace – who is now 17 – will be placed elsewhere.
The Devine report states this is a direct result of the sexual abuse complaint and the age and ill health of one of the foster parents.
Within a week of the meeting, arrangements are made to secure a residential bed for Grace in a facility for people with intellectual disabilities.
The foster father is also told of the sexual abuse complaint made against him at this time.
April 22, 1996: The foster family are notified of their right to appeal the decision to remove Grace.
April 23, 1996: There is a case conference attended by “all the relevant professionals”, of which there are no minutes taken. There’s also no evidence of anybody from the day care facility being invited to attend – even though Grace had been attending the facility for seven months.
Although there are no minutes kept, it’s noted that the case conference is told “Grace was reverting to her former agitated behaviour” but it’s not known who made this claim or where it came from. It didn’t come from the day care facility.
Also, at that case conference, it is noted the foster parents would appeal the decision to remove Grace and those present agreed to await the outcome of that process before proceeding with Grace’s removal.
In addition, at this case conference, it is noted that the health board will no longer use these foster parents.
April 24, 1996: The foster father requests that the family be given time to allow their grandchild get used to Grace leaving and they suggested Grace be allowed to remain with them until the autumn. There’s no evidence of that letter being replied to or being discussed further by those involved in the making the decision to remove Grace.
But we know, from the Devine report that, at some point, a bed that was left vacant for Grace from April that year was filled on the basis that a placement would be made available for Grace at the end of that summer.
May 17, 1996: The foster parents put their case before two professionals – Ms Marie Kennedy and Dr Marie Ryan – as to why they should be allowed to keep Grace. The minutes of that meeting recorded three questions which required clarification.
There is no mention of what the foster father had requested in his letter of April 24 – that Grace be allowed to stay with them until the autumn.
The questions are:
– Was Grace reviewed during the course of her placement and were the foster parents aware that alternative placements were being explored for her?
– At what level did discussions take place in relation to moving Grace to an alternative placement?
– What reasons were given to the foster parents in relation to the proposed move.
There’s no record of these questions being followed up and there’s no record of the two professionals making any decision or recommendation, following the meeting.
August 9, 1996: The foster family sends a letter to the then Minister for Health Michael Noonan which had been copied to the health board. This letter states they had “lost their appeal” and that they were appealing to the minister to “decide in their favour”.
The foster father also writes:
“We have looked forward to having Grace for a few more years in fact until my wife reached retirement age. How anyone can say the type of move envisage for Grace is in her best interest beats all.”
“Our grandson is 8 years of age who lives with us has always regarded Grace as his sister and to suddenly part them would be very upsetting for him particularly as his mother died last year.”
“…I can see no valid reason for this move…”
August 15, 1996: Six days later, according to the Devine report, the Department of Health requests a report on the matter from the health board.
August 20: Five days later, the Department of Health is notified that the matter is being dealt with under Section 43 of the Child Care Act. The health board tells the Department of Health it has “grounds for believing that it is in the best interests of the child to be removed from its current child care placement“.
The same letter to the Department of Health says the foster carers’ objections were heard “as per regulations” and that the plan to remove Grace was going ahead following “an agreement to leave her with the family for the summer”.
But there’s no record or file of any such agreement. There’s only the April 24 letter in which the foster father requested this arrangement, citing his grandson’s relationship with Grace.
August 26, 1996: The Minister for Health Michael Noonan’s office receives a letter from the principal of a school attended by the grandson. The principal writes in support of Grace staying with the foster family.
September 11, 1996: The Department of Health gives this school principal’s letter to the health board with a request for a report.
September 12, 1996: A day after Minister Noonan’s department passes on the letter from the school principal to the health board, it’s recorded that, during a visit to the home, the foster parents say they are going to oppose Grace’s removal and that they have written to Michael Noonan.
September 25, 1996: In response, the Department of Health is told the matter is “currently under consideration by the professional staff on the board” and that the school principal’s view would be taken into account in “reaching their recommendations in relation to the future care of Grace.”
October 24, 1996: A case conference takes place. The Devin report notes:
“There is some dispute in recollection between the professionals as to whether a decision was taken not to remove [Grace] prior to the case conference held on 24th October 1996. There is also a dispute as to why the decision to remove confirmed at the case conference in April 1996 was effectively overturned in October 1996. The [redacted] is of the view that the decision was taken at the case conference while the [redacted] was of the view that the decision not to remove was because “the appeal” by the [redacted] was successful.”
If you recall, in his letter to Minister Noonan, the foster father said he lost the appeal.
In addition, the Devine report noted:
“The Inquiry Team, on the basis of the evidence available, would be of the view that the two persons designated to hear the representations made by the [redacted] did not uphold the appeal of that decision. The inquiry Team would also be of the view that the decision taken at October’s case conference to effectively reverse the outcome of the April case conference was taken by the professionals concerned including the [redacted], [redacted] and the [redacted]. It is not clear however if this decision was made prior to the October case conference or was taken at the case conference.”
Either way, at the case conference of October 24, 1996, it is noted “there is no evidence that anything happened to Grace or that her well being or welfare are not being met..” but, at the same time, the conference is also told neither the health board or any intellectual disability service provider would be placing any further children at that home.
November 14, 1996: The foster parents are told that Grace will be staying with them.
2000: The foster father died.
February 27, 2001: During a visit to the home, the foster mother says she’s relying on the income that she receives for looking after Grace and says she’d like Grace to stay with her and her grandson until he turns 18, which would be in 2006.
March 27, 2009: After it’s noticed that Grace had suspicious bruising on her thigh and breast, she’s taken to A&E and then a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit. A statement is also taken by gardaí. She was later returned to the foster home as it was “the least worst option”.
Grace remained at the home until July 17, 2009.
Protected disclosures by whistleblowers in relation to the treatment of Grace are made in late 2009 and early 2010.
A total of 47 children with profound intellectual disabilities were placed at the home between 1985 and 2013.
Read the Conal Devine report here