Belfast Telegraph

Child and Family Agency failing to address governance issues – inquiry

It follows a highly critical report from the health watchdog last year which said that Tusla was mishandling allegations of child sex abuse.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said she welcomed the steps taken by Tusla to improve its handling of child sexual abuse cases (Niall Carson/PA)
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said she welcomed the steps taken by Tusla to improve its handling of child sexual abuse cases (Niall Carson/PA)

State child protection agency Tusla has has failed to make sufficient progress in addressing governance issues, an inquiry has found.

It follows a highly critical report from the health watchdog last year which said that the Child and Family Agency was mishandling allegations of child sex abuse.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) made a number of recommendations following an investigation which exposed failings in the system including poor record-keeping, failures to implement Tusla’s policies and risks in safety planning and managing retrospective cases.

An Expert Assurance Group (EAG), set up to support Tusla’s implementation of the recommendations, found that significant improvements are to be made across its system.

The report, published on Friday, stated: “In respect of measures to address governance at local and regional level, the EAG does not consider that sufficient progress has been made at this stage.

“The HIQA report is emphatic that effective governance at all levels in the organisation is fundamental to the effectiveness and sustainability of the reforms being undertaken.

“The EAG is aware that these actions are at an early point in its progress and will give further consideration to governance in the new year.”

The HIQA probe was ordered by Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone after an administrative error in a Tusla file led to a false sex abuse allegation being made against high-profile Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The investigation team visited six Tusla areas, including Cavan and Monaghan.

In its first report, the expert group, which met four times last year, welcomed the ongoing establishment of historical abuse social work teams in each region.

It remains apparent that there are significant improvements to be made across the systems employed to deliver on Tusla's core objectives Dr Moling Ryan

Author of the report and chairman of the group Dr Moling Ryan said: “The EAG welcomes the evidence of improved structures strengthening its close working relationship through the An Garda Siochana/Tusla joint working protocol and the rollout of Garda Protective Services Units.”

The HIQA said it plans to design a new inspection programme to promote improvement in child protection and welfare services and said it will set up an independent external advisory group to advise and support this.

Dr Ryan went on: “Neglect and emotional abuse, which are the majority of child protection referrals, differ from child sexual abuse cases in how children are helped.

“There are a significant number of children and families who are helped by Tusla staff every day.

“It remains apparent that there are significant improvements to be made across the systems employed to deliver on Tusla’s core objectives.

“The continuous focus on deficit erodes confidence in the system and the morale of those we have asked to act on our behalf to protect and care for children.

“The overall goal remains for there to be a supportive, community-based, co-ordinated and evidence informed service that strives for good outcomes for children and families.”

Minister Zappone said she welcomed the steps taken by Tusla to improve its handling of child sexual abuse cases.

She said: “I appreciate the clear information provided which demonstrates the work being done to guide Tusla in implementing HIQA’s recommendations.”

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