Tusla employee worked with children without Garda vetting

Hiqa concerned as staff at child and family agency knew of failure to vet psychotherapist

The lack of action from Tusla had been a “failure to protect children and families, leading to an increase in the number of those children impacted over the last 18 months”. Photograph:  Tom Honan

The lack of action from Tusla had been a “failure to protect children and families, leading to an increase in the number of those children impacted over the last 18 months”. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

A Tusla staff member was allowed to work with vulnerable children in State care for a “significant period” without proper Garda vetting, in full knowledge of senior officials at the child and family agency.

The individual had been working as a psychotherapist for Tusla since May 2019, and chaired reviews which assess placements of children in care.

However, despite their frontline work with children, their Garda vetting was not updated for more than a year.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) raised serious concerns with Tusla over the matter in recent correspondence released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Previous inspections had uncovered issues around the “poor quality of child in care reviews” in the area, Ann Ryan, then Hiqa’s head of children services, told Tusla in a letter on October 30th last.

Ms Ryan said that following a recent inspection it was clear the problems had “persisted and continued unaddressed”.

The poor-quality, child-in-care reviews had “been permitted to continue for more than a year up to at least May 2020”, Ms Ryan told Kate Duggan, Tusla director of services.

‘In full knowledge’

The staff member chairing the reviews was also “conducting direct therapeutic work with children in care, and was permitted to do both for a significant period without appropriate Garda vetting”, she said. The situation had been allowed to continue “in the full knowledge” of the principal social worker, area manager and Tusla regional service director, the letter said.

Records relating to 73 of the child-in-care reviews chaired by the staff member were also missing, Ms Ryan wrote.

The lack of action from Tusla had been a “failure to protect children and families, leading to an increase in the number of those children impacted over the last 18 months”, Ms Ryan said.

“Despite being fully aware of failure to comply with Garda vetting and professional registration requirements, a staff member about whom there were performance concerns had been permitted to continue within a therapeutic and social work role with children in care, without these basic safeguarding measures, up until at least May 2020,” Hiqa said.

Missing records

In a November 10th response, Ms Duggan said there had been repeated attempts to bring the employee’s Garda vetting into line, failing which a disciplinary process was started in late 2019.

“This individual has failed to attend a number of meetings or return calls and has been on sick leave since June 2nd, 2020, with a number of absences prior to this, therefore, this matter is not yet resolved,” Ms Duggan said.

Following repeated requests for missing records from 73 child-in-care reviews, the staff member provided records for 60 of the meetings, but these were “illegible”, Ms Duggan said.

Ms Duggan said she wanted to assure Hiqa “this is an individual issue and not a systemic issue”, and new policies had been introduced to make sure records for all child-in-care reviews were properly documented and filed.

The employee’s lack of vetting was an “isolated case” in the area, and Tusla said all staff currently in frontline roles had up-to-date Garda vetting.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said it had commissioned a review “into the factors that contributed to the lack of updated Garda vetting/Coru [Health and Social Care Professionals Council] Registration on an individual file and to identify recommendations for improvement.”