Monday 20 May 2019

Children 'left at risk' by Tusla shortcomings

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone responds to the findings of the HIQA Report
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone responds to the findings of the HIQA Report

Eilish O'Regan, Fiona Dillon and Cormac McQuinn

The cases of 65 children who were allegedly sexually abused had to be escalated for further investigation on the instructions of inspectors sent in to probe Tusla.

They were among 164 cases that were inappropriately "closed" by Tusla even though there were outstanding concerns about the protection of the children involved.

The revelations were made by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), which examined how Tusla manages allegations of child sexual abuse.

It discovered a range of weaknesses and failings that are "leaving children at potential risk".

The watchdog warned that while Tusla focused on examining current risks to children, this often led to a lack of urgency in responding to allegations of abuse involving adults who alleged they were abused as children.

"Some children are being left at potential risk because of a gap between policy and what is happening on the ground," said Hiqa chief inspector Mary Dunnion.

The probe was ordered in the wake of concerns about the performance of Tusla, in the wake of how it handled a false allegation of abuse against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

An error saw a counsellor mistakenly "copy and paste" serious and false allegations against Mr McCabe - but the allegations remained on a file, unknown to him for years.

Yesterday's report highlighted key deficiencies, including differences in the way child abuse allegations are screened around the country as well as no standard methods of managing a child's safety plan.

There was a system in place for the notification of suspected child sexual abuse between An Garda Síochána and Tusla, but there was no electronic data transfer system in place between the two agencies.

Documents are sent by fax or posted and there is no agreed protocol on sharing of information between both.

There were lengthy waits in responding to requests by Tusla for additional information from An Garda Síochána, which led to delays in creating informed safety plans for children.

Gardaí reported that requests to Tusla for written reports were often delayed, and when provided lacked the information that had previously been relayed verbally and that was needed to support criminal proceedings.

The investigation found poor record-keeping and although Tusla has a shortage of social workers, many staff are consumed by administrative work.

In response, Tusla chief executive Fred McBride said a comprehensive plan of reform is under way and it will work to implement Hiqa recommendations to address shortcomings, which will be overseen by an oversight group.

"On July 9, for the first time in the history of the State, all 17 areas around the country will be able to access an integrated system through the National Childcare Information System," he said.

Asked if he could guarantee another family would not suffer like the McCabes, he said:"What I would say is with the implementation of that system we think that the kind of error and errors that happened in the McCabe case will be significantly minimised. Of course, you can never eradicate human error, even with a computer system there might be human error."

Commenting on the report, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said it was "difficult to read" and recommendations will be implemented with a "sense of urgency."

An independent group chaired by Dr Moling Ryan will oversee the process. She is finalising proposals to reform the way Tusla and gardaí work together on cases of historical child abuse, she added.

Irish Independent

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