Removing children from abuse home can add to trauma, says Tusla

Agency chief says priority should be on removing abuse or abuser from homes

Tusla chief executive Fred McBride said simply removing children from a place where there may have been abuse can cause its own difficulties. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Removing children from a foster home where there has been an allegation of sexual abuse should only be done as a "last resort", the head of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has said.

Chief executive Fred McBride said simply removing children from a place where there may have been abuse can cause its own difficulties.

"Young people are often traumatised about being removed from foster placements," he told RTÉ radio.

“We must concentrate much more on how we remove the abuse or, where possible, the abuser, than removing the child.”


Mr McBride was questioned over the RTÉ Investigates - Failure to Foster Care programme, broadcast on Tuesday night, which highlighted allegations of abuse made against a foster family in the west of Ireland.

The programme found concerns were first raised in 2007 when a young girl in respite care with the foster family alleged she had been abused by a then 18-year-old member of that family.

Health Service Executive inquiries found the girl's claims to be "credible" yet two other foster children were allowed remain with the family on the basis that the alleged abuser was not to have unsupervised contact with them.

One of the two other children later claimed to have been abused by the same family member.

In excess of 70 charges have been brought against the then teenage member of the foster family who is accused of sexual abuse.

In response to the programme, Mr McBride said that children often see removal from a foster home as a punishment and “whatever else Tusla does as a State agency we must be very careful not to make the situation worse.

“We must be careful not to remove children from relationships which might be very positive for some children even if it is not positive for all. Children may have very protective relationships with their foster carer.” *

When questioned as to whether separation was more traumatic than abuse, Mr McBride replied: “Let’s make no mistake. Separation and loss for children causes huge trauma.”

He said all foster children are monitored on a regular basis and all foster families have a link worker to give them support and advice when looking after children. “The monitoring would be proportionate to the risk that is being assessed,” he said.

Mr McBride defended the fostering placement service. He said: “There are nearly 6,000 children in foster care. We believe they are very well-supported overall.”

However, Irish Foster Care Association director of operations Breda O'Donovan said there was a shortage of social workers within the system and almost 500 children in care have no allocated social worker.

When asked if foster homes were properly monitored, she replied: “Not enough. There aren’t sufficient social workers; there aren’t sufficient link workers.”

She said foster carers were not being monitored closely enough. “We know of foster carers who haven’t had a review in 10 or 15 years.”

Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) chief executive Grainia Long said she was "gravely concerned" that many children in care do not have a dedicated social worker and that the caseload for existing social workers is so large.

She pointed out that, according to Tusla’s own figures, 495 children in care do not have an allocated social worker, and 671 do not have a care plan in place.

*This article was amended on April 14th 2016

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times