Department suspended Extern’s funding over abuse controversy

Charity working with vulnerable young people receives over €20m in public funding

Extern’s head office, in Naas, Co Kildare. Extern received more than €20 million in funding from public bodies last year, according to latest financial accounts. Photograph: Alan Betson

Extern’s head office, in Naas, Co Kildare. Extern received more than €20 million in funding from public bodies last year, according to latest financial accounts. Photograph: Alan Betson

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

The Department of Justice suspended funding to a charity that runs Garda Youth Diversion Projects for a number of months following controversy over its failure to report a sexual abuse case to child protection authorities.

Extern, an all-island charity that works with at-risk children as well as running addiction, homelessness and mental health services, failed to notify Tusla, the State child and family agency, of a child protection incident for more than a year.

The incident involving the abuse of a teenager by an Extern staff member occurred in Northern Ireland in the second half of 2019. While authorities in the North were informed at the time, Tusla says it was not notified until September 2020.

Bernard Gloster, Tusla chief executive, later told the organisation he was “appalled” at Extern’s “major failure” in not notifying authorities in the Republic about the incident.

Children referred to Extern by Tusla had been accessible to the abuser, who was later convicted, although Tusla has said there is no indication children it referred to support services were abused.

The charity receives more than €750,000 a year from the Department of Justice, in part to run several Garda Youth Diversion Projects, aimed at preventing young people from becoming involved in crime.

Suspended

Department officials suspended all funding to the charity last December in response to the controversy.

A department spokesman said funding was restored this April, after “detailed and ongoing engagement” with the charity.

Overall, Extern received more than €20 million in funding from public bodies last year, according to latest financial accounts. The charity receives about €7 million a year from Tusla to provide support services to vulnerable young people. In Northern Ireland, it receives significant funding from healthcare trusts and the Public Health Agency.

Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB) had previously supported the charity in securing an annual €130,000 grant from the Department of Health for an under-18s drug and alcohol treatment service. It decided to stop helping Extern secure the funding after it was informed of the failure to report the case of child abuse to Tusla.

In a letter last October, Extern informed the ETB of the details of the child protection incident and the fact it was not initially reported to Tusla.

Responding the following month, Dr Christy Duffy, LWETB chief executive, told the charity that following “detailed consideration”, it no longer wished to continue acting as an intermediary for the organisation’s grant.

LWETB “will no longer act as a channel of funding for this project” from January 2021, he said.

‘Deep regret’

Danny McQuillan, Extern’s current interim chief executive, said the letter was received with “deep regret”, as the grant was “critical” to the service, which helped hundreds of young people in the midlands each year.

“We are aware that safeguarding checks are being undertaken by Tusla and to date there are no concerns relating to any other child,” he said in a December 4th response.

A spokeswoman for Extern said the HSE later took over as funder of the addiction project, to allow the service to continue.

Green Party TD Patrick Costello, a former social worker, said it was “worrying” that assessments of children accessible to the perpetrator in the Republic had been delayed.

Mr Costello said the charity appeared to have prioritised “reputational risk” in its response to the controversy. He added that Extern was an “excellent” organisation that ran essential services for “hard to reach children”.