Poorly coordinated services delaying treatment of child sex abuse victims

HEALTH professionals have highlighted a delay in treating child sex abuse victims because of a lack of coordination among health and justice authorities.

A conference on how different state systems were impacting on already vulnerable children heard calls for a joined-up approach to interviewing and helping child sex abuse victims.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews also told the conference that he had been informed of cases where lawyers for alleged abusers had used ‘anomalies’ in treating children to defend suspected perpetrators.

A specialised unit at Temple Street Hospital, Dublin, has seen the treatment of some child victims delayed by months because of a lack of coordination between the health and justice systems.

Speaking after the conference, Dr Derek Deasy, director at the hospital’s St Clare’s Unit, outlined how abused children had to go through a “myriad of services” in order to get help.

Dr Deasy called for a national body to be set up to coordinate the work of health professionals, lawyers and gardaí helping and treating child sex abuse victims.

“A very small number of our cases actually get to court. That takes ages. If somebody admits guilt on day one, you’re still looking at two years [for a court case] in terms of children who might even be aged eight.

“We should allow services to respond within weeks as opposed to what it can be now, which is months.”

Issues have also arisen over the sharing of evidence between gardaí and health workers.

Psychologists and social workers have complained about delays in accessing DVDs of Garda interviews with child victims in order to refrain from repeat questions about their abuse.

“We do not want to re-interview the child if we don’t have to. If we get this piece of information we may not have to re-interview the child,” added Dr Deasy.

In one case, health workers had delayed interviewing and treating an alleged abused girl under 10 years of age for 12 weeks because of delays accessing Garda evidence.

Mr Andrews said he would be “trashing out” issues in the coming weeks over different agencies working together on child sex abuse cases.

He added: “It has brought to my attention a number of issues. In particular, if evidence is solicited by the [hospital] units and it’s not evidence as such, as it was not solicited for the purpose of a trial, it might from time to time be different from evidence provided by the child in [garda] interview facilities.

“There’s a danger clearly of creating contradictions that would be an advance for the defence lawyers.”


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