Tusla invites groups for talks amid concerns over new child abuse policy

Tusla has invited support organisations for those who have survived sexual abuse, and professional bodies, to talks on the new mechanism to deal with allegations of retrospective abuse, which some have claimed could deter people from seeking help
Tusla invites groups for talks amid concerns over new child abuse policy

Maeve Lewis of One In Four said: "The major concern of all organisations involved is that we are working with very vulnerable people and we are really concerned that if CASP is implemented in its current format it might deter them from coming forward for the help they so desperately need."

Tusla has invited support organisations for those who have survived sexual abuse, and professional bodies, to talks on the new mechanism to deal with allegations of retrospective abuse, which some have claimed could deter people from seeking help.

Tusla initially hoped to introduce its Child Abuse Substantiation Policy (CASP) a year ago but postponed it for a year amid criticism from organisations including One In Four and Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI).

The Child and Family Agency has said CASP is a revision of a 2014 policy incorporating changes based on new legal judgements.

But RNCI and others, including professional bodies representing those working with survivors, have raised serious concerns, primarily around the risk that any requirement to notify an alleged offender of an allegation could identify the survivor, or even lead to survivors being questioned by the alleged offender.

Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster denied this could happen and said Tusla needed to follow the law while ensuring there is no risk to children today. 

Legislative deficit

Mr Gloster has referred to a “legislative deficit” in the area and the difficulties Tusla faces, stating last year: “I would much rather that the investigation and substantiation function was not a function of Tusla.” 

According to Tusla's business plan for 2021, published last week, one aim is to "implement an effective and safe system to investigate and determine an outcome to allegations of child abuse under the CASP”, with implementation by the last quarter of this year.

The finalising of policy and all associated procedures associated with CASP is earmarked for the second quarter of this year ahead of its implementation across all 17 Tusla areas. The Child and Family Agency also has a first-year target of a 10% reduction in CASP cases awaiting allocation.

Maeve Lewis, chief executive of One in Four, said: "The major concern of all organisations involved is that we are working with very vulnerable people and we are really concerned that if CASP is implemented in its current format it might deter them from coming forward for the help they so desperately need."

Ms Lewis said there were circumstances in which an alleged offender should be made aware of an allegation against them, but not in many situations where no investigation is taking place.

A Tusla spokesperson said there had been engagement with representative groups since last year.

"We have engaged with key stakeholders in respect of the Data Privacy Impact Assessment. This is to ensure that every person affected by allegations of abuse is treated with fairness and dignity and that the data protection rights of those who disclose abuse are honoured and respected," she said.

Virtual focus groups

An online survey and virtual focus groups are also being used, Tusla said, with all feedback to ensure CASP is "as workable as possible".

The issue has also been addressed by the special rapporteur for child protection, Dr Conor O'Mahony, in his first report to Government in the role.

He suggested a number of different avenues in addressing the “delicate balancing act” of dealing with the needs of someone making a complaint of child sexual abuse, the possibility that the alleged perpetrator may pose a risk to children now, and the rights of that person to know an allegation has been made against them, including expanding the role of the National Vetting Bureau and using data protection laws so Tusla can assess complaints of child sexual abuse.

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