Tusla ‘error’ may prove systemic issues in handling of cases, say social workers

Sergeant Maurice McCabe finds it hard to believe false claims made against him arose from an honest mistake in how the case was processed, but social work experts have not ruled out the possibility that this week’s revelations simply highlight systemic issues in how such cases are handled.

Thursday’s dramatic developments exposed how the garda whistleblower found himself receiving a letter from Tusla in January last year about the allegation which stated: “We will have to decide if you pose a risk to children.” There are two key questions: who made the ‘clerical error’ which set off the false allegation, and when?

In August 2013, abuse allegations were made by a young woman to a counsellor, who then contacted Tusla and the gardaí. According to one senior social worker who spoke to the Irish Examiner yesterday, the error — the attaching of a false accusation of serious abuse against Sgt McCabe — could have been made at this point.

It could have been something as simple as the counsellor making more than one referral at the same time. Or typing up notes from a pad incorrectly. Or cutting and pasting an allegation from a different case under the name of Sgt McCabe.

What seems less likely, according to the social worker, is that the error was input later after the initial referral to Tusla, mainly because if a standardised referral form was used, it tends to not be changed once received by Tusla.

Another social worker Joe Mooney, who is now based at the Unesco Child & Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, said even a phone referral would have resulted in the counsellor subsequently sending in a written referral. While everything is speculation until the gaps are filled in, he proposed that the initial error might have been made by a counsellor and that the second error was made by Tusla in not completely closing off the file when it deemed in 2014 that the false accusation was due to a clerical error.

“It seems like this is a complete coincidence but it exposes a monumental failure,” he said. Given the huge caseloads faced by social workers, those involving retrospective allegations can go to the bottom of the pile. Despite seeming to draw a line under the allegation in 2014, the file still found its way to a social worker who then sent Mr McCabe the letter just over 12 months ago.

And he asked: “How many other cases are being fumbled like this?”

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