A freedom of information request to the child and family agency by the Irish Examiner revealed “several hundred examples” of Tusla having to approach social media companies about online content related to its staff or to a child in its care.
Last week, Tusla CEO Bernard Gloster told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, and Integration of “increasing threats and intimidation of individual staff” from what he said was a relatively small cohort of people, adding: “The online treatment of some individually identifiable staff is a source of serious concern.”
According to information provided to the, incidents included:
- Two staff members from two different parts of the country received online death threats;
- A person convicted of assaulting a Tusla worker was sentenced but, while on appeal, posting defamatory comments about the worker online;
- Photos of staff members’ children posted online with offensive comments posted underneath;
- Workers; house photographed and posted online;
- Video recording workers as they leave their offices;
- An Garda Síochána, at times, having to escort social workers to and from court;
- Social workers filmed and subjected to verbal abuse as they enter or leave court;
- The date, time, location, and name of an Irish hotel where a staff member was staying with their family was posted online, along with suggestions that a protest would be held at the hotel;
- A wedding photo of a staff member was posted with offensive comments;
- The name, address, photographs, and location of a foster parent and a child in care were posted online.
A Tusla spokesperson said: “Supporting our staff in their work, and protecting them from unwarranted negative attention while carrying out their duties, is of paramount importance to the agency.
“We take violence, harassment and aggression towards staff very seriously.
"Attending the needs of children and families is a priority and, when this is done, and where a risk is identified and assessed we make considered decisions with regard to providing staff with a safe working environment while continuing to deliver these services.”
Tusla said the majority of its dealings with the public were normal but when issues did arise it considers its staff to be in the same category as all frontline critical public service providers."
"We take any threat to their personal safety or wellbeing to be of the utmost seriousness," the spokesperson said.
"In terms of supports available to staff, Tusla’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provides a confidential counselling support and referral service for all staff with personal or work-related difficulties. It also provides formal structured support to groups of staff who have experienced stress reactions as a result of a critical incident in the workplace.
"We encourage individual staff to also make complaints to Gardai where they feel threatened or feel that an offence has been committed against them and we are increasingly looking to legal remedies in the civil courts where we feel a credible threat has to be met with various court orders.
"Tusla also approaches social media companies directly when required, whether it be about a child we are dealing with or a member of our staff, and have several hundred examples of such incidents."
Bernard Gloster's comments to the Oireachtas last week were in the context of recent, more successful efforts at staff recruitment and retention, while the Irish Association of Social Workers said it was also aware of some of its members having been targetted.