Some 161 ‘unaddressed’ allegations of child abuse to Tusla uncovered

Reports of alleged abuse in Co Kerry included 46 high-risk cases

Tusla: issues uncovered in Kerry. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tusla: issues uncovered in Kerry. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Some 161 reports of alleged child abuse were left “unaddressed” in the Co Kerry area by Tusla, including a number of cases where children were at potential risk.

The cases all involved adults reporting alleged abuse that had occurred when they were children, known as retrospective disclosures. Only a small number had work undertaken on the cases, or to follow up on potential risks to children now.

The issue was uncovered by Tusla earlier this year during a review of separate matters in the Co Kerry area. An internal briefing note dated May 8th, 2020, outlined the review had revealed that “a large number of retrospective referrals may have been unaddressed”.

In a statement this week, a spokeswoman for Tusla said the 161 unaddressed cases had been uncovered by the agency’s “own processes of audit and investigations”.

The spokeswoman said all the cases had been reviewed, with a number now closed and those that remained open allocated to social workers.

Nearly a third of the cases were deemed to be “high risk”, including a small number where there was deemed to be a continuing potential risk of abuse to children.

Of the 46 high-risk cases, nine involved named children who were identified as at potential risk. In a further 23 high-risk cases, the alleged abusers reported to Tusla were believed to have contact with children.

The remaining high-risk files including some cases where social workers needed to establish if convicted sex offenders had contact with children. There were also 44 medium-risk, and 71 low-risk cases among the uncovered files.

Suspected abuse

Previously The Irish Times reported that Tusla had failed to refer 365 cases of suspected abuse to Garda in the Co Kerry area, which included the 161 unaddressed files.

The internal briefing note reveals that not only were the 161 cases not referred to gardaí, but no work had been undertaken by Tusla on the majority of cases.

“There was no evidence of uniformity of practice on the small number of files where work had taken place,” the note said. “In cases where some action had taken place, the rationale for the decisions taken was not recorded,” it said.

“The files showed a limited understanding of the process of dealing with retrospective cases,” it said, and there was no evidence of supervision of the cases. The 46 high-risk cases required “immediate follow-up”, it warned.

The internal briefing and other correspondence was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) sought assurances in May that all children identified as being at risk “due to the uncovering of 161 retrospective cases have an appropriate safety plan in place”, correspondence shows.

In a June 15th update, Tusla informed the watchdog that cases where children were believed to be at risk had all been allocated social workers, with safety plans in place.

Safeguarding concerns

Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster wrote to Hiqa on August 24th to state “substantial progress” had been made to address the “significant challenges” in the Kerry area.

Mr Gloster said Tusla had also reviewed 60 open child protection and welfare cases in the area, which gave rise to wider “practice challenges and concerns”, he said.

That review had found nearly two-thirds of the 60 cases had safeguarding concerns. “That is to say safeguarding matters either had not been adequately responded to or were outstanding in terms of the evidence reviewed,” he told Hiqa.