The Children’s Ombudsman has criticised delays in providing services to deal with the hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse carried out by children every year.
Niall Muldoon said Ireland is “way behind the curve” in tackling a problem which a conference heard is causing devastation in many families.
More than 2,500 sexual abuses against children are confirmed in an average year, with an estimated one in three carried out by U18s. A review of treatment services for sex abusers, which followed the 2005 Ferns report, recommended the provision of therapeutic interventions specifically for juveniles.
That was in 2007, noted Mr Muldoon. “From 2008 to 2010 we had €1m set aside in the budget to create this service. It didn’t happen. That’s to our shame.”
In August 2016, the National Inter-Agency Prevention Programme (NIAPP) was set up but with just four full-time staff. “It’s fantastic but it’s the guts of a decade after it was promised, agreed, and funded, and I’m guessing that the budget hasn’t reached €1m yet so we’re way behind the curve here,” he said.
NIAPP can call on about 30 Tusla staff to work on various cases but they can only give on average one day a week to the service.
“A child needs to have certainty. They need to know you’re going to be here six months from now. It’s like working with a bungee cord. You’re not quite sure when you’re going to be pulled back. That’s not the best way forward,” said Mr Muldoon.
He said some people might question why resources should be put into children who carry out abuse.
“We’re doing it because they’re children. There’s no other rationale needed.
He added: “We know that children who carry out abuse now could end up doing something more in the future. Investment now is going to be paid back 50 times because they don’t carry on reoffending as adults.
“I’m saying this to the minister for children and youth affairs that she really needs to put her back into this one and make sure that we provide enough resources and a proper system.”
Aidan Waterstone, senior manager with Tusla, the child and family agency, said he is aware of the need for more personnel. “We would like to see that number increase,” he said.
“It’s about resources, but certainly Tusla is very actively seeking additional resources.”
Judy McCarthy, one of the four full-time NIAPP staff, said the number of children with sexually harmful behaviour is significant: “People don’t think about sexual abuse as something that children carry out. It’s very difficult for families but very often the help they need is available, they just need to know they can ask for it.”
Mr Muldoon criticised the way relationships and sexuality education is delivered in schools, saying it is “not fit for purpose”. Good education is essential in helping to prevent sexual abuse, he said.
He also pleaded for a proper counselling service for child victims of sex abuse. “There remains no public national counselling service dedicated to the needs of child victims of sexual abuse which means that children are not guaranteed appropriate long-term counselling after such life-altering events.
“We have a national counselling service for the adults who suffered abuse in the past so a child of 17 who has suffered abuse has to wait until they become 18 to get free accessible service. That’s not right.”