Tusla: Litany of failures laid bare in report

Major deficiencies in staffing and systems at Tusla, the State’s child and family agency, meant serious child abuse allegations were not properly handled, a damning new report will conclude today.

Damning investigation sparked by mishandling of McCabe case

The report, which runs to more than 300 pages, will detail how the agency mishandled the allegations relating to Garda whislteblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe but also examines wider governing and resources issues within the agency and its capacity to react to suspected child abuse.

The statutory report into the embattled agency is to be brought to the Cabinet by Childrens’ Minister Katherine Zappone.

The Irish Examiner understands that the report, conducted by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), will find that Tusla is suffering from serious staffing problems which severely hampered its ability to deal with ongoing or historical allegations.

As a result of those deficiencies, the agency is unable to properly react when some cases of suspected child abuse are referred to it, the report will state.

Despite the hard-hitting findings , sources have told the Irish Examiner that the report stops short of blaming any individual official but rather concentrates on agency-wide failures.

The report was ordered in February 2017 in the wake of the revelations that Sgt McCabe had been completely erroneously catagorised as a suspected child abuser in internal files which were also forwarded to the gardaí.

When the error was first reported through the Irish Examiner, Ms Zappone ordered Hiqa to conduct a statutory inquiry. The final report was delivered to the minister over the weekend and is expected to be presented to the Cabinet today.

Among the findings are a number which deal with problems over the recruitment and retention of sufficient specialist staff to deal with referrals.

In particular, problems have been identified in retaining social workers. The Hiqa report is understood to find that while the agency can sufficiently address children at “immediate risk”, those at “ongoing risk” — including children at risk as a result of a historic case — are not receiving the requisite attention.

The report is also highly critical of the reporting and governance structures that led to the catastrophic error in relation to Sgt McCabe.

Among the findings of the report is one that the agency was aware in 2013 that a major error had occurred the previous year, yet Sgt McCabe was not informed of the situation.

He only became aware of what had occurred when a letter was sent to him in December 2015 asking him to attend a meeting to examine whether he was a risk to children. He responded by seeking his file, which was only finally made available to him 12 months later.

Sgt McCabe then found that, in addition to the erroneous file created about him, additional files on his children were opened on the basis that they could be at risk.

In the event that the family did not discover the series of errors, files on the McCabe offsprings would have remained open long into the future portraying them as “at risk”.

The terms of reference for the Hiqa inquiry stated that it “should take all necessary steps to avoid the potential for overlap with the tribunal of inquiry established to inquire into certain protected disclosures.

The Disclosures Tribunal sitting in Dublin Castle heard evidence last July that the error in relation to Sgt McCabe occurred after a visit to a counsellor in July 2013 from a woman who had made an allegation against McCabe in 2006.

This woman, known as Miss D, is the daughter of a garda colleague whom McCabe had been involved in disciplining. She had alleged that McCabe had touched her inappropriately in 1998, but an investigation comprehensively dismissed the allegation, describing it as “horseplay” if it occurred at all.

After her 2013 visit, the counsellor mistakenly mixed up her case with a completely separate one which involved suspected child rape. The erroneous file was maintained in Tusla, and went through a series of reporting structures without it ever being detected.

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