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22 Sept 2023 - IASW in the Examiner..."A decade after Áras Attracta, 'Emily' scandal shows vulnerable still not being protected"

Almost a decade on from the Áras Attracta scandal, still not enough is being done to protect vulnerable people in residential settings.

That is according to Patricia Rickard-Clarke, chair of Safeguarding Ireland who was speaking in the wake of the 'Emily' scandal which worsened with a new report this week. 

Among Ms Rickard Clarke's concerns are that nursing homes are not receiving enough information on new residents.

She said there are huge challenges in that pointing to what she sees as a mis-application of GDPR rules.

“Somebody who is discharged from prison into a care facility as a resident, we’ve had that, and then re-offends in terms of sexual abuse of other residents there who are perhaps non-verbal,” she said.

“He has rights, he needs a care facility but then the nursing home needs to know and get information shared appropriately. It’s not that you are telling the world. That director of nursing needs to assess the risks there, protect him and protect other vulnerable people. 

"And then they’re moved from one nursing home to another and the next nursing home not told.” 

She was speaking in the aftermath of a report published on Friday recommending wider investigation of a nursing home where an elderly woman, Emily, was raped in 2020 by a staff member. The HSE is now writing to hundreds of families of current and former residents who were in the facility during the staff member's 16 years there. 

“The issue of training was raised (in that report), but it’s not just about training of healthcare workers, it’s training of us all in society,” Ms Rickard-Clarke said.

It’s about our culture of dealing with people who have capacity issues, and again our respect for people when they are vulnerable.

Vivian Geiran, Irish Association of Social Workers chair also warned of gaps in the safeguarding system.

“Social workers just want to do their job, and a lot of them at the moment, particularly in this field, feel they are being ignored or they are being over-ruled,” he said. “As a result, they feel they are not being allowed to practice in a safe way.” 

He added this is particularly the case in nursing homes, and other residential care settings. 

He said the attack on Emily raised echoes of yet another situation, known as the Brandon case, where a resident was sexually assaulting other residents in a care facility.

The reaction in both cases was one of almost not wanting to believe what they saw, he said.

“There is a real need for change in terms of governance, because social workers particularly feel that as experts in adult safeguarding, their views and recommendations are in too many cases ignored or over-ruled."

The staff member who attacked Emily was imprisoned, and a review led to 21 referrals to An Garda Síochána. 

However Friday's report, by Jackie McIlroy, recommends a wider investigation covering 16 years the attacker worked there. The HSE accepted this. 

The report states families are divided on the response: "Some wondering about the purpose of reopening records given that it is unlikely that the outcome will result in further prosecutions, others calling for a full, open and transparent investigation." 

Residents with disabilities were mistreated by Aras Attracta staff in a scandal that led to the creation of Safeguarding Ireland and other changes.

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