Tusla to carry out review of child protection in Scouting Ireland
Zappone tells Dáil of child and family agency’s concern over standards in scouting body
Katherine Zappone said abuse survivors wishing to come forward should contact Tusla, or An Garda Síochána. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is to conduct a full review of child protection standards at Scouting Ireland, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has announced.
The decision follows revelations Tusla officials had “serious concerns” over current safeguarding standards in the youth organisation.
In an announcement on Wednesday evening, Ms Zappone said “Scouting Ireland must co-operate with a Tusla review of child protection concerns, as well as the handling of disclosures from children.”
Parents with children in the organisation should seek assurances that “no overnight trips take place without adequate numbers of trained supervisors,” Ms Zappone said.
“Scouting Ireland must ensure that each of these supervisors knows the exact steps to take if a child comes to them with a concern or if something happens,” she said. Parents raising these concerns were “behaving reasonably and responsibly,” she said.
This follows a recommendation from Tusla that the youth organisation should “consider the viability” of continuing to run overnight camping trips.
Scouting Ireland would be required to set out a “robust framework for the supervision of children”, alongside Tusla, the Minister announced.
Ms Zappone said the board of Scouting Ireland must meet child protection experts in Tusla in the next week. The organisation must also review all staff working in its safeguarding office, to “make sure they fulfil all the required criteria,” she said.
Tusla will open up a helpline on Thursday, for any individuals affected by past abuse in the organisation, to replace a confidential phone line previously run by Scouting Ireland. The phone line will be open from 10am to 4pm, and can be contacted on 086 6040337.
Historic child abuse
Ms Zappone also said the issue of child protection “must be elevated to board level within Scouting Ireland.”
Scouting Ireland is facing a major historic child abuse scandal, after an internal review by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott identified over 313 alleged abuse victims, and 237 alleged perpetrators. The alleged abuse primarily took place between the 1960s and 1990s.
Details from the ongoing review has suggested information was covered up, and alleged perpetrators were permitted to move between groups.
Scouting Ireland formed in 2004, following a merger of previous legacy scouting organisations.
In the wake of the scandal, Scouting Ireland set up a helpline, for alleged abuse victims to contact the organisation.
In a statement defending standards in the organisation, Scouting Ireland said it wanted to reassure parents and volunteers “in the strongest possible terms, that safeguarding is front and centre of all our operations.”
“We have fully cooperated with Tusla and the Gardaí and have informed them of all we are doing to make sure that Scouting Ireland is safer than it has ever been for our children and volunteers,” a spokeswoman said.
The letter from Tusla raised “serious questions” about safeguarding, and Scouting Ireland had sought “an urgent meeting with the chair and chief executive of Tusla to understand better their concerns to better enable us to act on them.”
The youth organisation questioned a number of the criticisms levelled at it from Tusla, including the suggestion it should consider suspending overnight trips away.
The organisation said it would to “helpful to understand what evidence Tusla has,” to claim Scouting Ireland should review the practice of overnight trips.
“Overnight trips and the experience of camping outside at night is an experience every scout should have the opportunity to enjoy and we have a strong policy framework in place to support this activity in Scouting Ireland,” the spokeswoman said.
Scouting Ireland said claims from Tusla that key staff working in safeguarding may have been compromised was a “serious allegation.” The organisation said the matter had not been raised in any of its meetings with Tusla previously.
In the Dáil earlier on Wednesday, Ms Zappone said Tusla also said consideration should be given to nominate the chief executive of Scouting Ireland as the principle liaison in relation to work on children first.
“A subcommittee should be put in place to review the child safeguarding statement and procedures.”
“An urgent review of the manner in which Scouting Ireland manage current child protection concerns and disclosures should commence.
“There should be an immediate review of the supervision of children involved in scouting.”
“Scouting Ireland should consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips.
“Consideration should be given to ensure the personnel manning the helpline are independent of Scouting Ireland.”
In the closing line of a statement to the Dáil, Ms Zappone said abuse survivors wishing to come forward should contact Tusla, or An Garda Síochána.
Reacting to the news in the chamber, Labour TD Seán Sherlock said there was now a “lack of confidence in Scouting Ireland to deal with its own affairs.”
Mr Sherlock said the new revelations had resulted in a “big shadow being cast across Scouting Ireland.”
Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, chairman of the Oireachtas committee on children and youth affairs, told The Irish Times he would be writing to call the organisation before the committee, “as soon as possible,” over the new revelations.
Mr Farrell described the concerns of Tusla over current child protection standards as “a very worrying turn of events.”