Suspected child abuse: Tusla delay ‘may have thwarted’ inquiry

Internal audit found quality and safety of current Kerry service ‘in question’

Bernard Gloster, chief executive of Tusla, decided a deep-dive analysis was ‘not necessary’. Photograph: Tom Honan

Bernard Gloster, chief executive of Tusla, decided a deep-dive analysis was ‘not necessary’. Photograph: Tom Honan

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Delays by Tusla reporting cases of suspected child abuse to the Garda in Co Kerry “may have thwarted a criminal investigation” into alleged abuse, an internal audit by the State child and family agency found.

The audit said the quality and safety of the current service in the Co Kerry area “was in question” due to a number of shortcomings.

It found there was a “significant delay” in Tusla notifying cases of suspected child abuse to An Garda Síochána. “The undue delay in notifying suspected abuse may have thwarted a criminal investigation,” it said.

Four incidents of suspected physical abuse of a child were referred to gardaí together, 11 months after the first incidence of alleged abuse took place. The audit noted there was a statute of limitations in investigating physical abuse, and the delays by Tusla “may compromise the capacity” of gardaí to open a criminal inquiry.

A summary report of four audits into the Co Kerry area, completed in August, was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Concerns about the Kerry area were first raised late last year after initial reviews by Tusla uncovered significant under-reporting of alleged abuse to gardaí.

Previously The Irish Times reported that Tusla had failed to refer 365 cases of suspected abuse to Garda in the area, including 161 cases of adults disclosing childhood abuse, which had been left unaddressed.

On foot of the concerns Tusla conducted audits into four different aspects of the service in Co Kerry.

The subsequent report found issues with the management and oversight of the service, which it said was “not sufficiently robust”. The standard of social work in the area was “inconsistent”, and, in a number of cases, Tusla policies and procedures were not followed, it said.

Tusla’s internal audit team examined 60 open child protection and welfare cases, and escalated about half of them to the attention of the Kerry area manager, due to “quality and safety concerns”.

Initial assessments of cases “was often of poor quality”, with examples of incomplete record-keeping and delays, it said.

The audit found “the local arrangements for overseeing the child protection and welfare service failed to notice that something was wrong”.

‘Deep-dive’ analysis

Due to the concerns the audit recommended a “deep-dive” analysis be undertaken of current open child protection cases.

Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster later decided a deep-dive analysis was “not necessary”, however, a number of cases would undergo independent reviews to help improve standards.

The audit team reviewed a further 80 cases which had been closed by social workers, and escalated nine to the area manager. The audit said “the likelihood of harm to a child, and existing safety, was not satisfactorily analysed prior to the decision to close these cases”.

Reviewing the cases of children in State care, in one instance a child with a disability was left without a social worker for “significant periods of time” in 2019 and 2020, which the audit said was “concerning”.

A Tusla spokeswoman said the issues in Kerry had been identified following an “internal proactive audit” by the agency.

The audit unit had observed that a delay in Tusla notifying gardaí of cases “may have led to a delay in investigation of alleged abuse”, she said.

Immediate action was taken on foot of the concerns, which included identifying all outstanding notifications of suspected abuse to be made to gardaí, the spokeswoman said. Other changes included a restructuring of the local teams and additional staffing, she said.