Abuse services group fails to convene

The State’s national body tasked with developing services for victims of child sexual abuse has not met since October 2016.

The multi-agency group, led by Tusla, has only met three times since it was established in May 2015, but is supposed to meet every three months.

The revelation follows the publication last month of a highly critical report by the Garda Inspectorate, highlighting the State’s continuing failure to establish regional child centres providing all services — medical, policing, and therapeutic — for sexually abused children. The inspectorate called for these centres back in 2012.

The National Steering Committee for Sexual Abuse Services was tasked with setting up four of these centres, in addition to providing national multiagency oversight, co-ordinating regional responses, and establishing three forensic examination centres, in Cork, Dublin, and Galway.

This committee replaced the HSE Ferns 4 Steering Committee, set up in 2011, which was also tasked with developing these services.

Cari, a charity for abused children, is on the steering group. Chief executive Mary Flaherty criticised the lack of progress and said the steering process was “not working”. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, gave details on the national group to the Irish Examiner on the back of questions submitted after the publication of the Responding to Child Sexual Abuse report by the inspectorate a month ago.

That report said: “Even though there appear to be commitments at very high levels in the Garda Síochána and Tusla to develop child centres, there are still no centres of any type or model in operation and there has been very little progress in the last five years.”

Asked when it was due to meet again, Tusla said the committee would now be reviewed by the inter-departmental implementation group which the Government announced after the inspectorate’s report. Tusla said a multi-agency group had been established to develop a service in Tusla West, stretching from Limerick to Donegal. Ms Flaherty said this group was the “most comprehensive” of the four regions, but moving at a “snail’s pace”.

She said the intention to set up a service in Galway was “logical” as it already had a specialist 24-hour forensic examination centre for children — the only dedicated service, she said, in the country, compared to six units for adults.

She said there were more than 70 children in Limerick on a waiting list for up to 18 months. There are two assessment and therapy services in Dublin — in Temple Street Hospital and St Louise’s Unit in Crumlin.

In May 2016, Tusla said it was developing a specialist multidisciplinary service in North Dublin, Louth/Meath, Cavan/Monaghan region. Ms Flaherty said this group, which Cari also sits on, does not involve the gardaí (unlike Tusla West) and had “now lapsed”, having not met for “almost a year”.

She said Cari had 30 children in Dublin on a list who, at present capacity, would be waiting close to a year for a service. Her colleague, Eve Farrelly, said waiting times for children were “unacceptable”.

The National Children’s Hospital will have a forensic examination service when it opens in 2021. Ms Flaherty said it was not clear what was happening in the Southern or the South Dublin/Midland regions, and Tusla did not provide information on them. On the implementation group, she said someone had to “crack the nut” around leadership.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs said “governance and logistics” for the centres would be addressed in the Implementation Group.

The inspectorate report said joint interviews of child victims by a social worker and garda had ceased and there were only 16 trained social workers. Tusla said 52 social workers are expected to be trained by end of 2019.

Cari: 1890 92 45 67


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