Tusla has refuted an allegation that it did not investigate eight allegations of childhood sexual abuse which were passed on by charity One in Four.
One in Four, a charity which supports victims of sexual abuse, said it made 91 child protection notifications to Tusla, the child and family agency, which resulted in the monitoring of one sex offender.
Executive director Maeve Lewis said: “We are extremely worried that dangerous sex offenders may be continuing to abuse children even though we have brought them to the attention of Tusla.”
In the charity’s annual report for 2016, One in Four says that most of the child protection notifications made to Tusla are returned as “unfounded”.
In 2016, it made 91 child protection notifications to Tusla, all of which were based on very serious allegations made by the charity’s clients in relation to experiences of child sexual abuse.
Of these notifications, 12 were accompanied by full statements to social care workers, of which eight were not investigated or deemed “unfounded”. Three of the allegations are ongoing and one case has come back as “founded”.
Tusla acknowledged the receipt of a “significant number of notifications” but refuted the claim it did not investigate eight of the allegations.
“We acknowledge that One in Four made a significant number of notifications in 2016, and a small number of clients made full statements to Tusla, however, we refute the assertion that we did not investigate eight allegations,” Tusla’s Chief Operations Officer Jim Gibson said.
“Where a person makes an allegation and decides not to engage with social work staff regarding the assessment, Tusla staff proceed on the basis of the information available and follow through as appropriate.We cannot, however, compel people to make a disclosure against their wishes,” he added.
The Child and Family Agency said it “welcomes the recognition of our positive joint working relationships in protecting children”.
Tusla, which has an obligation to complete assessments of all allegations of abuse of children, said it received 47,399 referrals to child protection and welfare services in 2016.
“Throughout such assessments, the safety and well-being of the child or children involved always takes priority, including where allegations of retrospective abuse are made,” it said.
Tusla said children at immediate risk received an immediate response but said where a child has not been deemed to be an immediate risk to a child, the Agency still works with the child and family to prevent future harm.
When assessing whether allegations are founded or unfounded, a finding of ‘founded’ is not the only basis for Tusla to provide a service to a child and family.
The same set of obligations fall upon Tusla with regard to conducting assessments of retrospective allegations of child sexual abuse.
“It is important to note that Tusla has no remit or role in relation to the prosecution or conviction of adults relating to criminal offences such as physical or sexual abuse, or for dealing with assessments of those already convicted for such offences under ‘Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children',” Mr Gibson said.
“Not all persons who have allegations made against them have criminal convictions for sex offences. Tusla has an obligation to report suspected criminal offences to An Garda Síochána. An inter-agency approach is paramount to ensure that children in need of support receive a timely, appropriate and proportionate response,” he added.
Tusla said it works with Gardaí and probation services to assess the risk posed by convicted sex offenders.
Tusla said it is the role of the Gardaí and probation services to monitor sex offenders.
“Tusla role is to develop and monitor, where appropriate, safety plans developed with children, families and professionals that are focused the future safety of children,” the Agency said.
Mr Gibson said: “A robust service improvement plan has been developed to manage retrospective allegations. Retrospective allegations of abuse are especially challenging because of a lack of a clear legal framework governing this area of work.
“Child protection social workers are focused on the protection of children and have not traditionally been trained to deal with this specific area, however we are now developing that special skill set”.
Tusla’s 'Policy and Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Child Abuse and Neglect' informs responses by Tusla staff to reported allegations of abuse, both current and retrospective, and is intended to ensure that all members of the agency are aware of the law and act according to the principles of fair procedure set down by the courts.
One in Four said that 79 clients of the 91 cases chose not to meet with a social care worker and it was, therefore, difficult for Tusla to investigate an allegation without a full statement.
Ms Lewis stated that Tusla needs far greater resources in order to deal with the volume of notifications because perpetrators of sexual abuse continue to abuse until they are caught.
“Our clients are adults who were sexually abused as children, but we know that sex offenders generally continue to abuse until they are caught. The father who abused his children may now be abusing his grandchildren; the teacher who abused one generation may now be abusing the next,” said Ms Lewis.
“Tusla has made strides in putting in place retrospective teams across the country, but our figures speak for themselves. From all these very substantial allegations, only one offender is now being monitored. We believe that Tusla child protection teams need much greater resourcing to deal with the volume of notifications.”
One in Four’s annual report includes figures on the number of people who received help from the charity last year.
In 2016, One in Four provided 2,563 therapy hours to 143 adult survivors of child sexual abuse and 53 family members.
Separate to counselling work, the charity’s advocacy officers supported 646 people to engage with the criminal justice system as well as to make child protection notifications.
In relation to the profile of its clients, 40% were male, which, according to One in Four, “challenges the idea that boys are not sexually abused”.
In terms of the survivors’ relationship to the perpetrator of the abuse, 46% of One in Four’s counselling clients were abused in their own families, 11% in the Catholic Church, 10% were abused by neighbours, and 19% by strangers.
Other statistics show that 9% of counselling clients were abused by more than one person.
Ms Lewis said that the charity’s waiting list is currently closed, which, because a large number of its clients attempt suicide, is of “huge concern”.
“In 2016 we met 94 new clients and 43 of these had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. It is a huge concern that we cannot respond immediately to people who ask for our help,” said Ms Lewis.
Additional reporting by Joyce Feegan.