Tusla Report: ‘Long delays’ in dealing with abuse claims

Tusla, the child and family agency, has been found to have “serious failings” in how it carries out its role.

In an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman into how Tusla handles complaints, it was found there were “long delays” in dealing with allegations of abuse.

Other findings showed Tusla failed to follow its own procedures when keeping social work records.

“Tusla social workers lacked empathy,” was another finding in the Ombudsman’s report, which was published yesterday.

In some of the specific cases outlined in the report, highly sensitive information relating to abuse allegations was misfiled and subsequently sent to the wrong address twice.

In another case, it took more than five years for allegations of abuse against a grandfather to be cleared. During this time, supervised access to his grandchildren, who lived in long-term foster care, had been suspended.

“My investigation has found that, in some cases, there have been serious failings in how Tusla carries out its role,” said Ombudsman Peter Tyndall.

“However, Tusla has accepted the findings in my report,” he noted.

The Ombudsman made several recommendations to Tusla, some of which have already started to be implemented by the child and family agency.

In relation to lengthy delays in dealing with allegations of abuse, the Ombudsman recommended Tusla ensures that “sufficient qualified staff are recruited and are in place to provide a timely service”.

The use of “electronic case management systems” was also recommended.

“I think it’s probably in Tusla’s defence, at the point of the handover from the HSE, there was also a very big backlog of reviews which had not been dealt with so Tusla started off very much on the back foot but I think, with the addition of resources going in, it’s time to get on the front foot,” Mr Tyndall said yesterday.

A spokesman for Tusla, Brian Lee, its director of quality assurance, said the agency welcomed the report as it “highlights a number of issues and recommendations that will support continuous improvement of services for children and families”.

Mr Lee said many of the issues pointed out in the report had been identified by Tusla themselves in the last nine to 12 months.

Meanwhile, One in Four, which supports people who have experienced sexual abuse, welcomed yesterday’s report.

“We are very pleased that an independent investigation now confirms the difficulties we experience in supporting adult clients to engage with Tusla regarding their sexual abuse in childhood,” said One in Four’s executive director Maeve Lewis.

“We notify Tusla of all allegations of child sexual abuse made by our clients. Regardless of how long ago the abuse happens, it is highly possible that the person who abused our client may still be abusing children,” Ms Lewis added.

Five years to clear abuse allegations

In one Tusla case, it took five years to conclude that allegations of abuse against a grandfather were “unfounded”.

After the Office of the Ombudsman intervened, following the deterioration of the man’s health, supervised access to his grandchildren was re-granted.

The man and his wife originally had supervised access to their grand- children, who were in long-term foster care.

The grandchildren’s mother made retrospective allegations of abuse against her father.

“Supervised home-access visits, which had been approved in principle, were placed on hold, pending the outcome of a credibility assessment by the HSE (subsequently Tusla),” according to the ombudsman’s report into complaint-handling by Tusla.

In line with the Children First Guidelines, the gardaí were notified of the allegations and they interviewed the grandfather.

A file was also sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal case.

The HSE then indicated that it was going to complete an “internal investigation”.

Two years after the allegation of abuse was made, the HSE wrote to the grandfather to tell him that their findings were “inconclusive”.

However, by the time this letter had been issued, the Children First Guidelines had been revised and “inconclusive” was no longer an acceptable outcome.

The Ombudsman became involved after Tusla had taken over the child-protection function. The child and family agency agreed to seek an independent assessment of risk.

But, by this stage, the grandfather’s health had deteriorated and he was unable to participate in the assessment.

Following the ombudsman’s intervention, however, the grandfather and grandmother were granted supervised access to their grandchildren in their home. The grandfather died a short time later.

Tusla ultimately concluded that the allegations were “unfounded”, more than five years after the retrospective allegations had been made.

Sensitive letters sent to wrong place

In Tusla’s handling of a complaint, as investigated by the Ombudsman, sensitive correspondence regarding an abuse allegation was sent to the wrong address twice.

A woman, Ms Flynn, made allegations of abuse and provided a statement to Tusla. It took 15 months before the allegations were examined, and only after Ms Flynn contacted Tusla.

Ms Flynn made retrospective allegations, which were misfiled by the social-work department.

She met with a senior social worker to provide a second copy of her original statement.

The senior social worker assured her that a report of their meeting would be written up and posted to her.

“While the senior social worker did write to Ms Flynn after this meeting, the letter was not received, as it was sent to the wrong address,” reads the Ombudsman’s report.

Due to the “apparent lack of contact” from the social-work department, Ms Flynn telephoned Tusla and a support person was assigned to her.

She was told that all of her concerns were “in hand” and that the support person “would find out” what was happening.

Correspondence sent subsequently to Ms Flynn was also not received, as it was also sent in error to an incorrect address.

In addition, when Ms Flynn complained about this second postal error, she was told that she was being “overly sensitive” and that she was “blowing matters out of proportion”.

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