Therapy units criticise Garda handling of child interviews

Gardaí allegedly inconsistent on sharing videos despite efforts to minimise questioning

Gardaí do not consistently share videos of interviews of sexually abused children with other agencies, despite protocols that allow for sharing, two of the country’s leading child sexual abuse assessment and therapy units have said.

Sharing of such videos would reduce the number of times children need to be interviewed.

And while Tusla, gardaí and the units agree interviews with children about sexual abuse should be kept to a minimum, in practice that is not always the case.

Keith O'Reilly, director of St Clare's Unit (SCU) at Temple Street Hospital, Dublin and Aoife Twohig, director of St Louise's Unit (SLU), at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, also in Dublin, said if a child has already been interviewed by gardaí in advance of an assessment at one of the units, and a DVD is available, a protocol between Tusla and gardaí allows for the exchange of this video.


"However, experience at SCU and SLU has been that practice on the ground is somewhat inconsistent in this regard," the two directors said, in a joint statement to The Irish Times.

Their comments come after a case in which a child in care was interviewed 11 times about allegations of sexual abuse.

A clinical psychologist reviewing the case had criticised the number of interviews, and described the garda interviews as “abusive” and “relentless”.

Commenting on the case at an international conference in Dublin in June, Bragi Gudbrandsson, director general of the agency for child protection in Iceland, said repeatedly interviewing children who have been sexually abused “destroys cases” and “retraumatises” victims.

St Clare’s and St Louise’s are independent services that offer assessment and therapy to children who have been referred to them by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. The units provide a report, once an assessment is completed, which Tusla uses to reach conclusions about the particular case.

Increased distress

Mr O’Reilly and Ms Twohig said child interviews should be kept to a minimum, but while some research indicated “repeated interviewing may result in higher rates of contradictions in children’s accounts and increased distress”, this could be minimised through training and other measures.

“It is increasingly indicated that it is the interviewing of a child in a repetitive manner that poses a greater risk than the number of actual interviews conducted,” they said.

Tusla told The Irish Times it is committed to working with gardaí in relation to joint interviewing of suspected victims. Asked about the role of the therapy units, to which it refers children, it said they were "not Tusla services".

"The sharing of DVDs would be a matter for An Garda Síochána, " a spokeswoman said.

Tusla said joint specialist interviews are conducted by Garda staff with the assistance of Tusla social workers. So far, six social workers have been trained for such interviewing and there are seven interview suites countrywide.

“It is best for children to be interviewed as little as possible to ensure that they don’t experience additional trauma,” the spokeswoman said.

“However each case is individual and there are occasions where it is necessary to meet with a child more than once or twice.”

Gardaí agreed it was preferable that a child is interviewed on as few occasions as possible, but said where a complainant experienced abuse over long periods, “accounts of such prolonged abuse may take a considerable time to relate”.

On providing DVDs of interviews, the Garda spokesman said in cases where joint working is not possible, provisions exist to allow for the recorded DVD to be made available to Tusla “to ensure that a child does not have to repeatedly recount the details of the abuse”.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist