Tusla delays led to failure to clear grandfather’s name

Case of man who died before his name was cleared highlighted in Ombudsman’s report

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall speaking about the publication of a report into Tusla’s procedures for handling complaints. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall speaking about the publication of a report into Tusla’s procedures for handling complaints. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A grandfather, against whom a false allegation of child-sex abuse was made, died without having his name cleared due to delays by Tusla in progressing the case, the Ombudsman has said.

Peter Tyndall said the case took five years to conclude, during most of which time the grandfather had no contact with one of his grandchildren and feared he might die without seeing the child.

In a report published by his office on Thursday Mr Tyndall said he had to intervene personally several times before the grandfather could see the child again. He died nine months later, before his name was cleared. His family received a written apology.

The case is one of several in the report, Taking Stock, which investigates how Tusla handles complaints and finds a series of failings. Conducted last year it examines “nine particularly challenging” complaints to the office between 2012 and 2016, and 30 sample complaints from Tusla’s files.

Among the findings are: undue delay in dealing with abuse allegations; people against whom abuse allegations have been made not fully informed of alleged details; inconsistencies in policy implementation; poor note-taking and record-keeping; poor communication; inadequate training for staff in some policies, and, failure to always tell complainants they can seek a review by the Ombudsman.

‘Insufficient evidence’

In the case of the grandfather, the “retrospective” abuse allegation was by the grandchild’s mother, who said he had abused her as a child. Gardaí interviewed the grandfather and the DPP directed no charges be brought due to “insufficient evidence”. The HSE, precursor to Tusla, took two years later to complete its investigation. Its findings were “inconclusive” but due to the then new Children’s First guidelines, an allegation ‘credibility assessment’ was necessary.

Intervention by the Ombudsman, including arranging an independent credibility assessment, resulted in supervised access to the child.

Mr Tyndall said delays were not due to the complexity of the case, but to the fact it “not pursued with sufficient urgency”.

Tusla chief executive Fred McBride appeared to take issue with Mr Tyndall’s depiction saying: “I think actually there was a view that perhaps there were still some risks to be addressed. But the Ombudsman pointed out some particular issues for us which we have taken on board and we will use these scenarios to take the learnings form them.”

Complaints officers

Brian Lee, Tusla’s director of quality assurance, said all the report’s recommendations were being implemented, including the recruitment of dedicated complaints officers; the roll-out of a new childcare case-management computer system across all 17 service areas by the end of 2018; area managers now required to document actions taken where shortcomings are identified; all staff to input complaints into the a national computerised system, and all adult complainants to be told they can seek a review by the Ombudsman.

Mr Tyndall said “in fairness to Tusla” it had come into being in 2014 with neither sufficient staff nor support systems.

“So Tusla started off very much on the back-foot but I think the time now, with the additional resources coming in, it’s time to get on the front-foot.”

His office would monitor implementation of the report’s recommendations, he said.