Tusla has said it is concerned about possible "under-reporting" of allegations of threats or intimidation towards its staff, including social workers.
Last December, it emerged that death threats, having their children’s photos posted online with offensive comments, and one worker’s entire holiday plans being leaked with suggestions of protests against them were examples of online abuse that had been directed at Tusla staff.
Just last week, the case of a woman having committed a minor assault against a social worker outside a courthouse was proven in a West Cork district court, although the perpetrator, in that case, received a conditional discharge.
In Tusla's annual report, 883 incidents of violence/harassment/aggression towards Tusla staff were reported on National Information Management System (NIMS) in 2020, 738 of which were reported in children’s residential settings.
A spokesperson for the Child and Family Agency said: "It is important to point out that these incidents arose in the context of children and young people who have experienced significant trauma in their lives, and these cases are documented for the safety of all involved – the children, young people and staff.
"The remaining 145 incidents of violence/harassment/aggression were reported in other Tusla services across the country and they are in a different context and indeed carry a heightened concern as in many cases they involve adults.
"We have witnessed an increase in the number of online threats and intimidation of individual staff, and while this is usually conducted by a small group of people and does not represent the good relationships we enjoy with so many, it is a matter of serious concern.
"Online activity can include personalised attacks on staff members, their families and reputations and are always a concern as they can potentially be a lead up to other forms of aggression.
"Where staff have been exposed to threats and intimidation on social media we liaise with An Garda Síochána and social media companies to take any appropriate measures as necessary."
Tusla National Director, Kate Duggan, said, “We are pleased that our engagements with the majority of people are very appropriate even in the most challenging of circumstances for them. We are however concerned and make it clear that we will not tolerate acts of aggression, violence or intimidation of our staff in any form and we will use every avenue possible to reduce their occurrence and support our staff to report crimes against them.”
Tusla currently adopts the HSE's policy on Managing Workplace Aggression and Violence, and Tusla’s Health, Wellbeing and EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) department provide therapeutic supports to staff including free 24/7 counselling, training, and other supports.
Tusla said it has also developed mandatory online health and safety training for all employees and their managers, including training on the importance of reporting health and safety incidents, including violence, harassment, and aggression, on the National Information Management System.
Last November 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.”