‘Fundamental deficits’ in how Scouting Ireland protects children

Parents must decide for themselves if it is safe to send their children to Scouting Ireland events, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has advised.

‘Fundamental deficits’ in how Scouting Ireland protects children

Parents must decide for themselves if it is safe to send their children to Scouting Ireland events, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has advised.

The stark admission comes amid fresh and continuing serious child protection failures in the group.

Tusla has written to Scouting Ireland calling for an urgent review of how it manages current child protection concerns and has suggested overnight trips be stopped.

Scouting Ireland faces the threat of having its funding cut after Ms Zappone said she would have “no hesitation” in removing financial support if Scouting Ireland fails to immediately address child protection issues.

While funding has been cut twice over the organisation’s poor handling of historical abuse cases, the minister confirmed the latest revelations relate to “current and live cases” of abuse which were identified following a sampling of ongoing child protection cases that were reported to Tusla as well as the handling of disclosures from children.

The letter sent this week cites poor practice in a number of live cases which Tusla said has left children exposed to risk of harm.

One case reported to Tusla found that a girl on a camping trip was questioned after a sexual assault and asked “Did you tell him to stop?”; “Did you say no to him?”; “Was she sore and in pain?”.

The report said the boy involved was approached by a Scouting Ireland member and interviewed about what happened in the presence of his scout leaders.

The agency warned that the children should not have been interviewed by anyone other than the gardaí or Tusla, and said confidentiality should always be maintained in such situations.

Ms Zappone last night published the letter sent to Scouting Ireland as she said parents have the right to know about the issues raised and asked them to seek assurances that no overnight trips take place without adequate numbers of trained supervisors.

Highlighting “fundamental deficits” in how Scouting Ireland protects children, Ms Zappone said: “If parents have children scheduled for overnight activities with Scouting Ireland it is up to them, that’s one of the reasons that I am putting the letter out that Tusla has sent to Scouting Ireland, so they can consider these issues.

“But if they feel that the scouts have been good to their kids then I am going to encourage parents to ask the scouts who are in charge of their children to assure them that volunteers have had the proper training to supervise their children.

Katherine Zappone
Katherine Zappone

“Those are the kind of things that parents need to consider and I want encourage them to do that,” she said.

In the letter sent to Scouting Ireland chief executive John Lawlor, Tusla highlighted “serious concerns” around its failure to implement the Children First national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children and made eight recommendations:

  • It is imperative that a proposed meeting between Scouting Ireland board of management is progressed without delay;
  • The actions of key personnel holding a role in safeguarding within Scouting Ireland may have been compromised;
  • Consideration should be given to nominate the CEO of Scouting Ireland to be the principal liaison in relation to work on Children First;
  • A sub-committee should be put in place to review the child safeguarding statement and procedures throughout the organisation;
  • An urgent review of the manner in which Scouting Ireland manage current child protection concerns and disclosures from children should commence;
  • There should be an immediate review of the supervision of children involved in scouting;
  • Scouting Ireland should consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips;
  • Consideration should be given to ensure the personnel manning the helpline set up to deal with historical abuse issues are independent of Scouting Ireland.
  • In a statement, Scouting Ireland last night reassured parents and volunteers, in the strongest possible terms, that safeguarding is front and centre of all their operations.

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