Expansion of Garda Vetting Bureau being considered over child abuse concerns

Expansion of Garda Vetting Bureau being considered over child abuse concerns

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Conor O'Mahony recommended expanding the role of the National Vetting Bureau.

The Government is looking at the possible expansion of the Garda Vetting Bureau in an attempt to resolve concerns over how to handle allegations of retrospective sexual abuse.

Tusla hopes to implement its Child Abuse Substantiation Procedure (CASP) by the end of the year and has invited representative organisations such as One In Four and the Rape Crisis Network to talks about how the policy could work.

But those and other organisations have voiced serious concerns about CASP, claiming the requirement to notify an alleged offender that an allegation has been made against them, even in cases where no investigation may follow, risks deterring people from seeking help. 

Investigative element

Tusla has admitted the current 2014 provision places social workers in a difficult position and places an investigative element with Tusla which is not its function.

In his first report as Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Conor O'Mahony recommended expanding the role of the National Vetting Bureau which he said would remove the necessity for Tusla to “stress test” the complaint at assessment stage, as proposed in CASP.

Slightly expanding the role of the National Vetting Bureau, he wrote, could provide "a robust statutory basis for the balance of rights between PSAA (person subject to allegations of abuse), the complainant and other children who may be at risk of abuse". 

It would also provide it with independence of gardaí and Tusla, meaning it could make "a holistic assessment of whether a disclosure to a third party is warranted". 

It would also allow for the finding of a “bona fide concern” which Dr O'Mahony said was more flexible than the current status of a complaint being either "founded" or "unfounded".

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) has said it is now speaking with the Department of Justice to explore how such an expansion of the Vetting Bureau would work.

"The relevant legislation is being reviewed as part of the review of the Child Care Act 1991," a department spokesperson said. "The review is considering the legislative measures that need to be in place to best protect and support children identified as at risk of harm. 

"In line with the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur [Conor O'Mahony], DCEDIY is actively engaging with the Department of Justice to explore the potential of the National Vetting Bureau legislation to provide a statutory framework for a comprehensive resolution to the important issues identified."

Complex and difficult matter

The spokesperson said balancing the rights of the victim and the rights of the person against whom an allegation has been made where there is not a criminal conviction is "a complex and difficult matter" and while Tusla’s policy and procedures for responding to allegations of child abuse have been in place since 2014, CASP incorporates legal points from more recent judicial reviews.

The most recent monthly report from Tusla, for last January, shows 675 cases of retrospective abuse awaiting allocation to a social worker. There were 235 referrals of retrospective abuse in January, 26 more than in December 2020.

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