No bad guys, but still a disgrace

CONSIDERING all the efforts that have gone into revealing and, ultimately, all but ending clerical child abuse is it possible that we are about to fail another generation of vulnerable young people who experience sexual maltreatment in their families and communities?

According to a leading sex abuse charity, it is already happening.

The annual report of the One In Four group, published yesterday, reveals that cuts in Government funding has led to the repeated closure of its waiting list for counselling services. Last year the charity had to close its waiting list for services for four months as it could not afford to pay enough counsellors. Already this year, it has had to close for five months. Tragically, three traumatised people who sought their help took their own lives while on a waiting list to see counsellors.

One In Four is also concerned that the operation of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is inconsistent across the country in how it deals with protecting vulnerable children and in the way that distressed survivors are dealt with by social workers.

According to Maeve Lewis, the charity’s chief executive, poor assessments of risks are being done by the agency when social workers come to decide whether an allegation of abuse is well founded or not.

This is hardly surprising, considering that Tusla is hugely underfunded itself and already at breaking point in respect of the services it can provide.

In a recent submission to Cabinet, Tusla warns that it is so under-resourced that it cannot deliver on its statutory obligation to provide adequate child and family support services. As a result, children are in danger of serious harm.

Ireland’s criminal justice system is not up to the mark, either, according to One In Four, with victims not encouraged to come forward and many finding that they are not being taken seriously.

Furthermore, cutbacks in An Garda Síochána which led to the early retirement of many experienced officers, means survivors of abuse are increasingly being dealt with by young gardaí who lack the experience and necessary training to deal sensitively with their cases.

Over the last 30 years, a lot of resources have been put in to training gardaí in special interview techniques in dealing with vulnerable victims. Now all that hard work has been undone by cutbacks. Given that so few victims of sexual abuse actually make a complaint to the gardaí, that is not just a pity but a national disgrace and an appalling waste of talent and other resources.

The sad thing about all this is that none of these agencies are the bad guys. All that Tusla, An Garda Síochána, social workers, and, of course, One In Four, want to do is to help and protect children.

As with clerical abuse, will the next generation wonder how we could have let this happen?

That would be the greatest tragedy of all.


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