Tusla interviews 'may re-victimise abused children'
Abused children may be re-victimised and evidence could be undermined due to interviewing practices used by Tusla to assess the credibility of complainants.
The stark warning came in a report submitted to the Government by the country's leading child protection expert.
In the report, special rapporteur on child protection Professor Geoffrey Shannon also highlighted a number of cases where there were deficits in Tusla's handling of retrospective abuse allegations.
These are allegations made some time after the alleged abuse occurred.
He recommended the setting up of a specialist team of forensic investigators to assess such complaints.
Prof Shannon identified the interviewing of children and adult victims as "a key area of concern". Under the Children First Guidelines, joint specialist interviews are supposed to take place where it is deemed necessary by both gardaí and Tusla.
However, one case examined by Prof Shannon demonstrated such joint co-operation may not take place in practice and that the protocol does not work effectively at all times.
He said co-operation between gardaí and Tusla in respect of the interviewing of child victims of sexual abuse "may not be functioning sufficiently".
"It appears Tusla sometimes insists on a credibility test in respect of allegation of child abuse [made] by a child and it seems that children are being unnecessarily interviewed," he found.
"This may have the effect of re-victimising the child victim and may also potentially undermine the evidential value of the evidence of a child abuse victim."
Prof Shannon found there was a specific problem when it came to the investigation of retrospective allegations of abuse.
The role of Tusla in the protection of unidentified children from the potential risk associated with on-going contact with a person who is alleged to have abused a child in the past was unclear, he said.
Prof Shannon reported that the agency had said there was a lack of clarity as to its express powers in this area under the 1991 Child Care Act.
He identified one case where investigations into retrospective allegations were ongoing after three-and-a-half years, yet no steps had been taken to mitigate the risk of further abuse by the suspected abuser.
The report recommended that the assessment of whether or not a retrospective complaint is substantiated should be carried out by dedicated specialist teams of forensic investigators.
They would have a separate role and function to Tusla social workers.
The report recommended that child care law cases should always take place on a different day to other proceedings in light of the highly sensitive matters being litigated.
He also called for the assignment of judges with comprehensive training in relation to child care law.
The report also calls for the abolition of the direct provision system of accommodating asylum seekers.
Prof Shannon recommended a time limit of between six and nine months be introduced after which an individual who has not yet received a first instance decision on their status should be able to leave the direct provision system, live independently and access social welfare payments.