Examination of child for sexual abuse done in error, Tusla report finds

Mother was told five-year-old girl was to undergo general paediatric assessment

The Tusla report upholds or partially upholds a number of the mother’s complaints in relation to the medical examination. Photograph: Tom Honan

The Tusla report upholds or partially upholds a number of the mother’s complaints in relation to the medical examination. Photograph: Tom Honan

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A medical examination of a five-year-old for signs of sexual abuse was undertaken in error, following a miscommunication between Tusla, the child and family agency, and the girl’s mother.

An internal Tusla report, which followed a complaint from the mother to the agency, found she, a nurse manager and social workers believed the girl was being sent for a standard paediatric examination due to a medical condition and history of eczema.

However, the doctor who carried out the medical understood it related to an investigation into alleged sexual abuse.

The report, seen by The Irish Times, found the mother was advised by a clinical nurse manager that the medical would be a “general paediatric review”, which would be useful for the child, notes of their conversation show.

It took place in March at the Family Centre, a child sexual abuse assessment unit run by Tusla in St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork. The nature of the medical which the girl’s sister was present for, caused the mother “shock and distress”, the report said.

The report found there were “anomalies in terms of what different parties believed the medical to be for”. The doctor stated that the examination was undertaken on the basis of a contractual relationship with the Family Centre to assess children for possible sexual abuse. A senior social worker in the unit said the centre does not offer general paediatric assessments.

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Raised concerns

The report said there was no record of any conversation between the clinical nurse manager and the doctor in which the nature of the medical was discussed.

The girl was referred to Tusla after her mother raised concerns about possible alleged sexual abuse, but the child made no disclosures to professionals and Tusla closed the case. However, the medical took place a month later, which the report said added to the irregular nature of the intervention.

The report upholds or partially upholds a number of the mother’s complaints in relation to the medical examination.

In a July 12th letter, the manager of the Family Centre apologised to the mother over the “shortcomings” identified by Tusla. She said the report’s recommendations would be implemented “in order to ensure there is no recurrence”.

One recommendation was that new medical consent forms be used by the centre which make clear that assessments were undertaken in relation to concerns about sexual abuse.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said the complaint by the child’s mother had been investigated at the appropriate level. “In this particular report, as with many, when a shortcoming is identified it is acknowledged and apologised for,” she said. *

The spokeswoman said the Family Centre medical assessments include a “complete head to toe physical examination” of a child, but added it is not “an internal examination.”

The purpose of the examination is to determine if there is any physical evidence from alleged sexual abuse, to screen for potential sexually transmitted diseases, and to reassure the family about the child’s health, she said.

* This article was amended on July 29th, 2021