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Long delay in Tusla dealing with some child abuse allegations

  • 18 Jul 2017

Ombudsman report finds breaches of the rights of accused adults

18th July 2017

www.rte.ie

The Ombudsman has criticised Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, for serious failings in its responses to a number of allegations of child abuse made against adults.

The watchdog found that in one case it took five years to clear the name of an accused man, while in another a note recording a complainant's allegations was sent to the wrong address.

The report by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has its origins in a warning three years ago by his office to the newly-created Tusla about how social workers were handling some cases including allegations of child abuse, particularly historic complaints.

After working with the agency to try to ensure that clear policies and procedures were in place, the watchdog received a variety of new complaints which cast doubt on whether the earlier concerns had been properly addressed.

The Ombudsman then began a systemic investigation - the report on which he published this morning.

It reveals long delays by Tusla in dealing with some allegations of child abuse, breaches of the rights of accused adults, the mailing of confidential communications to an incorrect address, instances of Tusla social workers lacking empathy and a failure by the State agency to follow its own procedures for keeping social work records.

The investigation examined nine complaints received by the Ombudsman as well as 30 complaint files held by Tusla.

In one case, the review found it took five years to conclude that abuse allegations against a grandfather were unfounded.

In a separate case, a female complainant's statement was misfiled and the allegations were not examined until 15 months later after the woman contacted Tusla again.

Then a note of the woman's allegations which should have been sent to her was sent to the wrong address.

The same happened with a subsequent letter.

In another case, Tusla breached guidelines set down in a landmark court judgment from 1997 by failing to give an adult a written notice of the allegations against him before interviewing him.

In another case, Tusla wrote to a professional who worked with children asking to meet him.

The letter mentioned the gardaí but did not specify the nature of the allegation from a person described as "anonymous".

It also failed to state that the man could bring a support person with him to the meeting.

The Ombudsman says the letter caused the man considerable distress and prompted him to fear that he would lose his job because his garda vetting status could be compromised.

Three months later Tusla deemed the allegation to be unfounded.

In a separate case which involved an allegation of a different nature, a foster carer who was the subject of a complaint did not receive details of the social worker's report on her or other material which was to be relied on by a foster care review committee.

This rendered the carer unable to fully respond to the complaint yet her foster care status with Tusla was adversely affected.

 

One in Four raises concerns

An organisation that works with abuse survivors has said it is very concerned that the majority of the cases it refers to Tusla come back with a determination of "unfounded", even when it has reason to believe that the allegation is very substantial.

One in Four Executive Director Maeve Lewis made the comment in a statement welcoming today's report by the Ombudsman.

"When our clients choose to make a full statement about their abuse to Tusla," Ms Lewis says, "there are often very long delays or even a refusal to meet the survivor. 

"Indeed I sometimes have the impression that the social workers simply want to close the case as quickly as possible.

"Some of our clients complain that when they are interviewed by Tusla social workers they are treated in an insensitive and sceptical manner which causes further distress," she says.

"We are very pleased that an independent investigation now confirms the difficulties we experience in supporting adult clients to engage with Tusla regarding their sexual abuse in childhood. 

"We notify Tusla of all allegations of child sexual abuse made by our clients. Regardless of how long ago the abuse happens, it is highly possible that the person who abused our client may still be abusing children."

Ms Lewis accepts that in the past number of years Tusla has made a serious effort to address these concerns, and that specialist teams to deal with retrospective allegations are now in place in most Tusla areas. 

She praises examples across the country of really excellent services. 

However, she adds that One in Four still encounters major problems in other areas "where Tusla staff do not even seem to work within official Tusla procedures".

She says that at core, the subject matter of the Ombudsman's report is all about protecting children from sexual harm.

"After all the revelations of the past decade, we should have one of the best child protection systems in the world. 

"I understand that resourcing is a big issue. Irish social workers regularly deal with caseloads that are double those of their UK colleagues and that needs to be urgently addressed.

"Until we have a child protection service that can consistently assess risk to children and respond to keep them safe, then the lives of another generation of Irish children will be blighted by sexual abuse," Ms Lewis concludes.

Download the executive summary from the reports section of www.iasw.ie