Belfast Telegraph

Child agency criticised over abuse allegation probe delays

Ireland's state child agency was responsible for long delays in dealing with allegations of abuse, an independent investigation said.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said the rights of those accused of wrongdoing were breached and highlighted serious failures by the Child and Family Agency, Tusla.

It took five years to conclude that allegations made against a grandfather were unfounded, the watchdog said.

Only nine complaints were upheld by the Ombudsman out of almost 50,000 referrals dealt with by the child protection agency, Tusla said.

Mr Tyndall said: "My investigation has found that in some cases there have been serious failings in how Tusla carries out its role."

The investigation examined complaints the Ombudsman received as well as complaint files held by the child welfare organisation.

The ombudsman said an allegation of abuse was misfiled and the claim was only examined 15 months later after the woman who complained contacted Tusla.

In the same case, a note of the woman's allegations which was to be sent to her was sent to the wrong address and a subsequent letter was also sent to a wrong address.

In another instance a professional who worked with children received a letter from Tusla asking for a meeting and mentioning the garda, but not specifying the allegation.

The Ombudsman's report said: "The letter caused the man considerable distress and he had fears over his Garda vetting status.

"Three months later Tusla deemed the allegation to be unfounded."

The investigation also said an adult did not receive written notice of the allegations of abuse made against him before being interviewed by Tusla - contrary to guidelines.

In another instance, a foster carer who was the subject of a complaint did not receive details of the social worker's report on her or other material which was to be relied on by a foster care review committee.

The foster carer was unable to fully respond to the complaint and her status was adversely affected.

The report also said Tusla failed to follow its own procedures when keeping social work records, and its staff lacked empathy.

Tusla has accepted the findings and agreed to implement recommendations aimed at improving its procedures.

Its statement said it had been actively working to improve this area of work for the past 12-18 months and established its own complaints unit.

Brian Lee, director of quality assurance at Tusla, said the Ombudsman's report, Taking Stock, was based on a small sample of individual complaints and provided valuable lessons.

He said: "Tusla is aware of difficulties in responding to complaints in a timely way and this is due, in part, to resource issues.

"New structures and systems are being set up to enhance the complaints and feedback function across the country.

"Once we receive a complaint, we will respond to it promptly and, wherever possible, will endeavour to resolve the complaint locally and quickly.

"An immediate response to all complaints may not be possible, as some will require formal and careful consideration."

Tusla has produced guidance for members of the public and staff and a complaints leaflet for young people as well as briefed staff.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said almost 1,500 children were received into care for legal reasons between 2012 and 2015.

It followed a Dail response from children's minister Katherine Zappone.

Mr McGrath claimed: "The figures I have received regarding the hundreds of children who each and every year enter emergency care reveal a pattern of carnage in our child protection systems."

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