Tusla identifies failures in 65 cases of kids at risk of abuse

Tusla identifies failures in 65 cases of kids at risk of abuse

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Noel Baker, Michael Clifford and Daniel McConnell

A damning investigation into the State’s child protection agency Tusla has identified 65 cases where the group failed to protect children who are at “potential risk” of abuse.

The situation is revealed in a hard-hitting report by State watchdog the Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) in the aftermath of serious and incorrect abuse claims last year against garda whistle-blower Maurice McCabe.

The 300-page report has uncovered a series of damaging problems hampering Tusla’s ability to ensure vulnerable children are protected and to adequately investigate historic abuse complaints.

And, while the investigation was criticised as a “cop-out” after it failed to blame anyone for the McCabe scandal — which it emerged yesterday is now the subject of an internal Tusla HR inquiry — it raised a series of concerns over Ireland’s child protection system.

According to the report:

  • Tusla failed to address 65 abuse cases despite concerns children were still at “potential risk”;
  • Tusla closed 164 suspected child sex abuse cases despite not knowing if the matter was resolved;
  • “Defective points”, such as preliminary investigations of abuse complaints, safety plans for vulnerable children and referral problems are leading to “child protection concerns”, and fears some abusers are being “missed”.
  • At the launch of the report, Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn rejected Tusla claims that staff shortages are causing the problems and said it is worrying that Hiqa, “as a third party, had to come in and identify” 65 Tusla cases where children were at potential risk which had not been acted on.

    Mr Quinn said “those deficits were definitely identified as a result of our audit” and that as a result “it’s very, very important” Tusla immediately acts on the findings.

    However, despite acknowledging failings, Tusla chief executive Fred McBride insisted that the State group is doing all it can given the significant workload it is facing and serious problems with out of date regional child safety monitoring systems.

    Asked why Hiqa identified 65 cases where children were at “potential risk” which Tusla did not act on, Mr McBride said there are “some gaps” but stressed “in the vast majority of cases we gave clear explanations as to why we did or didn’t do certain things”, adding the report “did not say any of those children were directly harmed”.

    Child protection campaigners, including One in Four’s executive director Maeve Lewis, Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward, and Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay, all welcomed the report’s findings.

    They also backed potential plans to transfer all responsibility for investigating historic sex abuse claims from Tusla to the gardaí.

    Speaking in the Dáil amid a barrage of opposition criticism the report side-stepped the McCabe scandal concerns, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Hiqa investigation “catalogues failures and enormous shortcomings”, adding: “We cannot make these improvements soon enough.”

    This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner

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