Tusla is seeking an urgent meeting with Scouting Ireland amid growing concerns for the safety and protection of children.
The abuse survivors support group One in Four raised “alarm” after Scouting Ireland rejected recommendations made by Tusla around child protection failures in the organisation.
The Government’s child protection rapporteur said the significant safeguarding concerns “strike at the heart of child protection”.
Tusla wrote to the organisation, which has more than 50,000 members, to highlight significant failings it says it found in ongoing cases. The agency called for an urgent review of how Scouting Ireland manages child protection concerns, questioned the level of supervision provided, and suggested that overnight trips be stopped.
Scouting Ireland moved to refute the claims and query the child and family agency after Tusla suggested that young people are being exposed to risk of harm as a result of ongoing child protection failures in the organisation.
Launching a strong defence, Scouting Ireland’s interim safeguarding manager, Ian Elliott, said he was “baffled” by the Tusla letter and said the organisation is “not trying to hide anything”.
Mr Elliott said Scouting Ireland had met Tusla last Monday and “asked if there were any concerns and we were told ‘no’, so we are confused by this”.
“We have stringent and robust policies now in place that I believe are best practice,” he said.
The Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Geoffrey Shannon, said Tusla had highlighted “serious concerns that strike at the heart of child protection, the issues raised in the letter are troubling and concerning”.
Prof Shannon said: “What we need to realise is that where we have practices that don’t fully comply with the law, there are vulnerabilities for children and this is about protecting children.”
Maeve Lewis, director of One in Four, said anybody reading the letter would “be aghast at the live cases that are outlined and the very inappropriate ways that it appears Scouting Ireland personnel interrogated children about what happened”.
She said: “Tusla’s view is that things are still being mishandled, so that is something that Scouting Ireland needs to take very seriously. I am alarmed that there now seems to be a conflict and that Scouting Ireland are not accepting the issues raised in the letter from Tusla.”
Scouting Ireland said it had been told in an email from Tusla on February 15 that its child safeguarding statement was fully compliant with the Children First national guidelines. Three days later, however, Tusla had sent out a letter raising significant concerns around child protection.
Tusla said the later letter had highlighted issues with practice and procedure and was separate to the child safeguarding statement.
In the Dáil yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government still has concerns about the safety of children at Scouting Ireland.
Last night, Tusla officials invited Scouting Ireland to meet them to discuss the issues and to progress with the eight recommendations outlined in the letter sent last week.
In a statement, Tusla said: “We wish to acknowledge that there are many people involved in scouting who do good work with children and it is not our intention to undermine that in any way.
“However, at this time we do have concerns about current practices and procedures in Scouting Ireland and overall compliance with Children First.”
- February 15: Tusla emails Scouting Ireland to inform them that their child safeguarding statement was fully compliant with the Children First policy.
- February 18: Tusla writes a letter to Scouting Ireland detailing a number of concerns around child protection and issues eight recommendations.
- February 22: Scouting Ireland receive the letter.
- February 25: A meeting between Tusla, the gardaí and Scouting Ireland is held to discuss calls to a helpline set up to address historical abuse claims. Ian Elliot says no issues were raised by Tusla at this meeting.