Mother takes legal action against Tusla over incorrect ‘alcohol misuse’ accusation

Copy and pasting error had led to inaccurate reference to alcohol use in case records

A mother is taking a legal case against Tusla over an incorrect reference in case records. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A mother is taking a legal case against Tusla over an incorrect reference in case records. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

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A mother, who Tusla incorrectly accused of “parental alcohol misuse” due to a copy and pasting error in its records, is taking a legal case against the Child and Family Agency.

The mother contacted Tusla in early 2018 seeking supports for her then 15-year-old son, as he had behavioural issues and the relationship in the home had become difficult.

Social work records related to the case stated that risks in the home included “concerns children are exposed to parental alcohol misuse”.

The mother, who does not drink alcohol due to a medical condition, was a single parent in the home with her two children at the time.

On Tuesday, The Irish Times reported an internal Tusla review had found the reference to parental alcohol abuse had been added into the case file due to a copy and pasting error.

The woman is taking a legal case against Tusla seeking damages over the “false and very damaging allegations”, according to filings lodged in the High Court last month.

The claim for damages alleges that, rather than provide supports when requested, Tusla “wrongly portrayed and targeted” the mother “as being the problem”. The lack of supports and false allegations had a “very adverse effect” on the mother, court filings claim.

Apology

Bernard Gloster, Tusla’s chief executive, has apologised for “a number of failings” in how the agency handled the family’s case, “many of which were avoidable”, he said.

Gareth Noble, a solicitor who specialises in child protection cases with KOD Lyons, welcomed the fact Tusla had “owned” the mistakes in the case and apologised.

The State agency had a tendency to “double down” when mistakes were identified, which was “incredibly frustrating”, he said.

The case highlighted that often when contacted for supports, Tusla focused on trying to find “parental deficiencies”, rather than addressing the needs of the child, he said.

The internal Tusla review, completed on March 5th of this year, said the inaccurate reference to alcohol misuse had come from a form that was used as a template by social workers.

“When a copy was made of this template, it was not properly redacted and as such a reference to parental alcohol use was on this copied template,” the review said.

The social worker involved accepted “that this record is inaccurate, stating it was an error, but was not in any way done to mislead or create dishonest records”, the review said.

When questioned on the matter, the father of the children in question had told social workers the mother did not drink alcohol, but the false claim of alcohol misuse remained in the case file.

Further inaccuracies

Further inaccuracies in the family’s file included a reference to concerns about the mother’s mental health. Records had stated that social workers had become “increasingly concerned” in relation to the mother’s mental health.

The internal review noted, however, the mother did not have any mental health disorder.

The social worker involved said the entry had reflected their “professional concern” over the stress facing the mother at the time.

The review directed the records should be corrected to state that social workers had been concerned “in relation to the impact of the current stress and upset” on the mother’s mental health and wellbeing.

The review was ordered by Mr Gloster last July, following a meeting with the mother, where she outlined concerns with how Tusla responded to her family.