Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) has said that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, appeared to be “in the dark” regarding its own use of joint garda-social worker interview teams in child sexual violence cases.
The RCNI said that Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone had indicated that Tusla did not collect information on the number of interviews conducted by joint garda-Tusla interview teams.
These teams, supposed to comprise a trained garda and trained social worker, can conduct interviews with child victims of sexual abuse or violence.
Ms Zappone was asked in the Dáil, by Clare Daly, Independents 4 Change TD, if Tusla could say how many specialist Tusla-garda interviews of child abuse allegations there were in 2018.
The minister conveyed the Child and Family Agency’s response, which was that “they do not collect the information”.
The RCNI said: “We are concerned at this absence of knowledge Tusla would appear to have of its own practices.” According to a previous ministerial written reply to Deputy Daly, on November 13, there were 12 specialist interviewers in Tusla and that 29 people would be fully trained and available by January 2019.
The minister also announced the piloting of specialist child centres in 2019 to deliver a multi-agency response to children, where there were concerns of sexual violence.
The RCNI welcomed these developments. It said that joint specialist interviews would be the most appropriate and effective way to hear the voice of a child in sexual violence cases.
In lengthy reports, the Garda Inspectorate has highlighted the lack of specialist interview teams.
Last April, the Inspectorate’s ‘Responding to Child Sexual Abuse’ report raised concerns that joint interviews of child victims by a social worker and a garda had ceased. It said the joint interviews were widely regarded as the “most effective way” to conduct child interviews.
The Inspectorate said that, at present, 16 social workers were trained and available to conduct child-specialist interviews. It said: “This is not enough to provide a nationwide, joint interviewing service. Without a significant increase in the numbers of trained social workers, joint interviews will not become a standard practice.” This report was a follow-on from an original examination the Inspectorate did in 2012. Those reports also called for regional specialist child centres.
Tusla has previously said that 52 social workers were expected to be trained by gardaí by the end of 2019.
The RCNI said that Tusla received 770 child sexual abuse allegations in the first quarter of 2018, but said there was no information on how many of these cases were treated as child-protection matters, with joint specialist interviews subsequently conducted.