Ex-HSE director ‘not surprised’ at discovery of files

The former assistant national director of child and family services in the HSE said he was “not surprised” when approximately 700 unidentified files relating to children, about whom concerns had been raised, were recently unearthed.

Phil Garland said there was “poor management, poor accounting, and little responsibility” within the State’s child- protection services.

The discovery of the files in the Laois/Offaly area included 822 unacknowledged Garda referrals. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has commenced a review of see if any of these referrals were acted upon.

Mr Garland said that those tasked with child protection have legislation they must follow in order to avoid charges of reckless endangerment and withholding of information.

However, he said he was not aware of any prosecutions of those working in child and family services for either of the above offences.

Under the Criminal Justice Act, 2006, an individual with authority or control over a child who “intentionally or recklessly endangers” the child by placing or leaving them in a situation which creates a substantial risk of serious harm or sexual abuse is guilty of an offence. So too is the person who fails to take reasonable steps to protect a child from such a risk while knowing that the child is in such a situation.

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Under the Criminal Justice Act 2011, a person is guilty of an offence if they fail to disclose information that could be of material assistance in securing a conviction.

Mr Garland, who was not immune to controversy during his time with the HSE — occasionally criticising government policy on child protection — has set up his own agency, the Essential Organisation, to advise victims of abuse on how to navigate hurdles that could potentially prevent the abuser being brought to justice.

Because he also previously worked as director of the Archdiocese of Dublin Child Protection Service, he said he is well-positioned to help victims navigate their way through the processes of Church and State to obtain information relevant to their case.

During his time with the HSE (2009-13) he acted as an internal reviewer of Freedom of Information requests. He said this experience is useful when advising victims on how to obtain personal files.

Mr Garland said his new agency also advises charities on how to ensure they are compliant with governance requirements and charities legislation.

“In addition, individuals who have been harmed — be it bullying, harassment, or abuse — can come to me. I talk through their experience with them and advise them on what needs to be done, who to report the abuse to, whether they are inside the statute of limitations. It’s about pulling the different strands together and taking a collaborative approach,” Mr Garland said.

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