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Appeal process in respect of sexual abuse allegations against a foster carer breached fair procedures

By: Shane Kiely BL

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High Court, in judicial review proceedings brought by a foster carer of whom sexual abuse allegations had been made by a child in his care, and which had been upheld by an appeals committee, holds that the appeals committee procedures had previously been the source of judicial criticism, and grants an order of certiorari quashing the decision.

Applicant is a married father of four adult children and was employed by the Health Service Executive as a care assistant working with adults with intellectual disabilities - the applicant and his wife have fostered several children since 2007, one of whom made an allegation of sexual impropriety against the applicant which is said to have occurred while she was in their care - second and third named respondents are members of the appeal panel established by the first respondent to conduct an appeal from the decision of the first respondent that the allegations of sexual impropriety made by the child against the applicant were founded - applicant seeks various orders - second and third named respondents are experienced social workers with considerable expertise in child protection and welfare matters - between 2004 and 2007 applicant and his wife fostered seventeen children - child N.T. born in 1999 made allegations against the respondent in 2013 that he sexually harassed her earlier that year - disclosure set in train a number of different investigations, the first of which is known as “the initial investigation” - applicant was precluded from unsupervised contact with his grandchild - in September, 2014, the first respondent published a new policy entitled “Policy & Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Child Abuse & Neglect” (“the 2014 Policy and Procedures”) - on 19th June, 2015, the gardaí advised that there would be no prosecution - August, 2015 the applicant and his wife wrote to the chairperson of the Foster Care Committee, insisting on fair procedures and requiring certain assurances and documentation to enable the applicant to respond - principle social worker notified the applicant of her provisional conclusion that the allegations against him were founded and that he “may pose a risk to children” - on 18th February, 2016, the first respondent furnished the applicant with the final conclusion, confirming the provisional conclusion that the allegations were founded - on 26th February, 2016 the applicant’s solicitor indicated that he wished to appeal and sought details regarding the process - appeal panel upheld the conclusions of the social work department - submissions of the applicant and respondent - principal social worker never spoke to N.T. nor did the members of the appeal panel - 2014 Policy and Procedures obliges the appeal panel to ensure that fair procedures are afforded to the alleged abuser and to afford him/her the opportunity to meet either alone or accompanied, at which such meeting he or she “shall” be entitled to a reasonable opportunity to make statements, make legal submissions, provide data, submit an expert report or to request that a statement be provided by any person who is reasonably material to the appeal - previous judicial criticism of appeal procedures of 2014 Policy and Procedures - decision of appeal process should be quashed.

Note: This is intended to be a fair and accurate report of a decision made public by a court of law. Any errors should be notified to the editor and will be dealt with accordingly.

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