Monday 17 December 2018

Harrowing details of child welfare investigations highlighted in latest report

  • Harrowing details of cases revealed in Child Care Law Reporting Project
  • Report director highlights problems with concurrent criminal and child welfare investigations in Ireland
  • Details lack of adequate facilities for handling child abuse allegations in Ireland
Dr Carol Coulter (inset) authored the report
Dr Carol Coulter (inset) authored the report

Sean Nolan

Two children who made allegations of sexual abuse against 11 people, including their parents, are among the harrowing cases highlighted in the latest report from the Child Care Law Reporting Project.

The publication today of the latest volume of the study by Dr Carol Coulter catalogues 16 child care cases that have recently been heard in Irish courts.

Dr Coulter today noted that of continuing concern are problems with concurrent criminal and child welfare investigations in Ireland.

Speaking to RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland, Dr Coulter said: "The problem is how to interview the children in order to get the information as to whether or not they have been abused. If there are allegations of serious abuse, often sexual abuse of the children, that is a criminal offence.

"If it is reported to the gardaí they will naturally want to investigate, and they will probably carry out interviews of the children.

"Then the children also need therapeutic support and the Child and Family Agency need to have certainty that these allegations are true, so there are interviews carried out sometimes by social workers, sometimes by a specialist unit, although there are no specialists in certain parts of the country to establish the credibility of the allegations and also to assess what support the children may need."

One such case mentioned in the report involved three children that Tusla applied to have taken into care. Two of the children, of primary school age, alleged they had sexually abused by 11 named individuals: their mother, their father, two male relatives, a female relative, three teenage girls and two other men and alleged that another female relative was present when they were abused.

On foot of these allegations a third child, just two days old, was taken into care under an emergency care order.

The adults admitted to alcohol abuse but denied sexual abuse.

Gardai opened a criminal investigation in this case but the DPP decided not to proceed.

Garda interviews with the children were recorded and, to avoid interviewing the children again, Tusla asked for copies of the DVDs. Gardai were concerned about sharing these as it may affect an upcoming criminal case but a court order granted Tusla access to them in January 2017.

Dr Coulter said the current process "often leads to the children being over-interviewed and then the evidence isn't adequate to bring to a criminal prosecution.

"Another problem is there may not be the credibility interviews, the interviews for therapeutic support, the service there is very patchy and the only evidence is that the guards have, and they don't necessarily want to share it with the Child Protection proceedings, because they're worried it might compromise their investigation."

The harrowing report details a wide range of issues in Irish child care, including the lack of adequate facilities and the difficulties in handling child abuse allegations.

Dr Coulter noted that the Minister for Children and the Department of Children are currently analysing best practices in other jurisdictions.

"The Dept of Children are considering this, they are aware it is an issue, they are looking at examples abroad where you can have a single person carrying out the interview but with input from all the other agencies which might be involved in both the welfare of the child and criminal proceedings," she said.

"And then that is brought to wherever the platform might be.

"We're a long way away from that. Another best practice model that is used elsewhere is to have joint interviewing between perhaps a social worker and a specialist garda.

"That's meant to be happening here, there are protocols, but it doesn't happen in the majority of cases."

Elsewhere in the report, another case in Dublin District Court heard that two teenage boys in foster care were subject to beatings, bullying and were threatened with having their throats cut or being shot.

The foster carer gave evidence that said the two boys were were living under such fear that she would drive them around in her car in the middle of the night to help them sleep.

Another case, involving a suicidal teenage girl, heard how she spent nine months in a secure detention unit without a psychiatric assessment and then made a serious attempt to take her own life one month after being discharged and returning home.

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