Victims who disclose abuse can be ‘retraumatised’

Victims who disclose abuse can be ‘retraumatised’
A false claim of child sex abuse against Garda Maurice McCabe mishandled by Tusla.

A study has found that adults who disclose abuse they suffered when they were younger can end up “retraumatised” because of issues with how their disclosures are dealt with, including delays and poor communication.

Research to be presented today at the seventh National Child Protection and Welfare Social Work Conference in Cork shows that among the worries faced by those who have made retrospective abuse disclosures is not knowing what happens to their information, who will be told, and when the alleged perpetrator will be contacted.

The research was conducted by Joseph Mooney, assistant professor of Social Work at the School of Social Policy in University College Dublin, who examined the experiences of adults who have engaged with the child protection services.

It finds that once they disclose, adults can experience significant delays, poor communication and lack of clarity from child protection services.

Irish child protection policy Children First obliges the Child and Family Agency to receive and assess disclosures from adults of retrospective abuse disclosures.

Dr Mooney will say that various Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) reports highlighted failings in Tusla’s management and assessment of these disclosures, including the false allegations made in the Maurice McCabe controversy.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs’ Expert Assurance Group is due to publish its final report in the coming weeks while Tusla is developing a Child Abuse Substantiation Policy to take account of the needs of victims and survivors.

However, Dr Mooney said legislation is needed to underpin the social worker’s role in this area and that the current system needs to change.

His own research will show that adults find the system itself to act as a barrier to them coming forward, with a lack of social work expertise in responding to historic sexual abuse allegations, significant legal complexity facing the child protection services and a lack of clear information or guidance as to what the process would be once they engaged.

This is potentially heightened due to mandatory reporting and GDPR rights of the accused party.

According to Dr Mooney’s research: “The adults who participated also reported that their specific needs and the dynamics of abuse and disclosure were not considered. They highlighted specific concerns regarding what they called ‘the handing over of their story’ in the context of a lack of clarity and lack of confidence in the system. Some of the adults drew parallels between their experiences of the system and their experiences of abuse.”

Last June, Tusla said it would respond to figures which showed the number of cases of retrospective abuse awaiting allocation to a social worker had, for the first time, overtaken the number of cases that have been allocated.

Last January, the number of unallocated cases overtook the number of cases that had been allocated for the first time, with that trend accelerating in February and again in March, when there was also an increase in the number of allocated cases.

The Child Protection and Welfare Social Work Conference is taking place today in University College Cork.

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