Tuesday 15 October 2019

Overnight scout trips to continue as Tusla seeks meeting over concerns

Published letter: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Published letter: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Luke Byrne

Luke Byrne

Tusla is calling for a meeting with Scouting Ireland to discuss its concerns over practices and procedures on child safety at the organisation.

The child and family agency issued the call yesterday after Scouting Ireland confirmed overnight scouting trips will take place this weekend, despite serious concerns raised by Tusla.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone this week published a letter from Tusla which expressed concern about "live cases" where children are exposed to harm.

In response, Scouting Ireland questioned what evidence was available to support this. Its child protection consultant Ian Elliott has said the organisation is as "safe as it can be and getting safer".

He said that there were numerous policies in place to deal with child safeguarding and in relation with overnight and camping trips.

'Baffled'

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke', Mr Elliott said the organisation is "baffled" by the letter.

He said that there were 12,500 dedicated volunteers who "do a wonderful job".

However, now Tusla has sought to meet with the scouting body to work through the concerns.

"We wish to acknowledge that there are many people involved in scouting who do good work with children and it is not our intention to undermine that in any way," a statement said.

"However, at this time we do have concerns about current practices and procedures in Scouting Ireland and overall compliance with Children First.

"We have invited Scouting Ireland to meet with us to discuss these concerns and progress the recommendations to ensure that the practices and procedures in place are in line with Children First, are robust and that children are as safe as possible.

"We look forward to meeting with Scouting Ireland."

Tusla also said it was part of its "usual business process" that it raised concerns.

Tusla had suggested that Scouting Ireland consider ending the overnight trips.

It also recommended that Scouting Ireland make changes to how children in its care are supervised in the wake of sex abuse allegations.

Some scout leaders and families have said scrapping camping trips would "ruin children's rite of passage" to gain freedom and grow away from home.

There have been 13 alleged complaints made about historic abuse at Scouting Ireland. These relate to 237 people suspected of alleged abuse.

To date, there have been 175 calls to the Scouting Ireland helpline, 49 calls to Tusla and five calls to An Garda Síochána.

Review

Tusla's child safety and protection experts said Scouting Ireland must consider that key people responsible for safeguarding children may have been compromised by the sex allegations that had engulfed the organisation.

It said a sub-committee must be established to review safeguarding procedures and the manner in which Scouting Ireland managed current child protection concerns and disclosures from children must be reviewed.

However, Scouting Ireland has questioned the need for the sub-committee.

Tusla also asked Scouting Ireland to consider "the viability of continuing with overnight trips" and said it should carry out an "immediate review of the supervision of children involved in scouting".

Tusla is operating a helpline from 10am-4pm Monday to Friday for anyone who has a child protection or welfare concern, or wishes to make a referral on foot of the letter published by the minister.

The helpline number is 1800 805 665.

Irish Independent

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