Over 880 incidents of violence or harassment of Tusla staff recorded last year

Child and family agency reports ‘concern’ at level of violence and aggression towards staff

Of the logged incidents, 738 cases of violence or aggression related to staff working in the State agency’s residential facilities for children. File photograph: iStock

Of the logged incidents, 738 cases of violence or aggression related to staff working in the State agency’s residential facilities for children. File photograph: iStock

 

There were nearly 900 incidents of aggression, harassment or violence towards Tusla social workers and other staff recorded last year, according to the child and family agency’s annual report.

In total, there were 883 incidents of violence, harassment or aggression aimed at Tusla staff, with the vast majority of incidents related to residential settings for children in State care.

Of the logged incidents, 738 cases of violence or aggression related to staff working in the State agency’s residential facilities for children.

In a statement, a Tusla spokesman said it was important to note these incidents “arose in the context of children and young people who have experienced significant trauma in their lives”.

The incidents were logged on the agency’s health and safety reporting system “for the safety of all involved,” he said.

A further 145 incidents of violence, aggressive behaviour or harassment of Tusla staff related to other services, such as social workers’ engagement with families over child protection or welfare concerns.

In many of these cases the aggressors were adults, and as such were in a “different context” to vulnerable children and adolescents in residential settings.

The cases of violence or harassment by adults carried a “heightened concern,” the Tusla spokesman said.

The figures were contained in Tusla’s annual report covering 2020, which was published on Friday.

In a statement to The Irish Times, Tusla said: “Violence, harassment, and aggression towards staff continues to be a significant problem, and we are taking the issue very seriously.”

“We are also concerned that our reported figure is reflective of under reporting in some cases,” it said.

“We have witnessed an increase in the number of online threats and intimidation of individual staff, and while this is usually conducted by a small group of people and does not represent the good relationships we enjoy with so many, it is a matter of serious concern,” the statement said.

Some social media or online commentary the agency had noted included personalised attacks on staff, or their families, as well as threats.

“Where staff have been exposed to threats and intimidation on social media we liaise with An Garda Síochána and social media companies to take any appropriate measures as necessary,” the agency’s statement said.

Kate Duggan, Tusla national director, said the State agency was “concerned” over the level of aggression towards its staff.

“We will not tolerate acts of aggression, violence or intimidation of our staff in any form and we will use every avenue possible to reduce their occurrence and support our staff to report crimes against them,” she said.

Tusla responded to nearly 70,000 child protection and welfare referrals last year, according to its 2020 annual report.

The agency dealt with 69,712 referrals in total, an increase of more than a fifth on the number of referrals received in 2019.

A significant reform of the agency’s internal structures, pushed forward by its current chief executive Bernard Gloster, has been approved in recent weeks, according to sources.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Gloster said last year had been “very challenging” for the agency, due to the severity and prolonged effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.