Staff at a unit treating child sex abuse victims are coming under increasing pressure from the courts and the DPP to release intimate details over and above that related to abuse concerns.
The level of detail demanded by lawyers is such that staff at St Clare’s Child Sexual Abuse Unit in Temple Street Hospital believe it could deter families with abuse concerns from coming forward.
The unit’s acting principal social worker, Maura O’Sullivan, said that children confide in them on the basis of confidentiality but that increasing requests from both the civil and criminal courts were impacting on their ability to guarantee containment of intimate information.
“We would traditionally have always released a report to the social worker which would give all the details of the assessment, all the information and our conclusions,” she said. “But then courts started coming back and saying: ‘Actually, we want your verbatim notes. We want your whole file. We want the DVD recordings [of interviews with children].’
“And we don’t make DVD recordings for evidentiary purposes. The reasons we make DVD recordings is to ensure quality in our own practice and to have a an accurate record of what was being said.”
Eimear Lacey, senior social worker at St Clare’s, an assessment and therapy service, said the information they gathered was far broader than abuse allegations, and having to share this information could potentially make it available to the child’s abuser.
“We’re not just assessing credibility, we’re assessing the needs of the child therapeutically and the needs of the family therapeutically, so our information is much broader than the specific allegations,” said Ms Lacey.
Ms O’Sullivan said there was increasing pressure from the DPP’s office for access to therapy notes, which flew in the face of efforts to create a protected and confidential therapeutic relationship with child sex abuse victims.
She said that, to facilitate children confiding in them, they needed reassurance that the content of their conversations were private and not used for other purposes.
Ms Lacey said that they were “finding that the boundaries around us, around what’s private to the child, are being pushed and pushed and pushed in terms of information being given either to the courts or to the alleged perpetrator, directly through Tusla’s procedures”.
Ms Lacey and Ms O’Sullivan are trying to raise awareness of the dilemma staff in the unit face, and have begun meeting with politicians to highlight the issue.
“We need to create change because it’s having an ongoing impact on children and families’ decisions around whether they are going to report things, because if all of your personal information is going to be made available to a whole raft of people, then they would have to think very carefully about that — whether it is going to actually help their child or create more trauma,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
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