Tusla failed to refer 365 suspected abuse cases in Kerry to Garda

Failures prompted State agency to hold national audit which found further issues

File photo. Photograph:  Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

File photo. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Tusla, the child and family agency, failed to refer 365 cases of suspected child abuse in the Kerry area to Garda for investigation, an internal review has found.

Concerns around the potential significant under-reporting of abuse allegations to gardaí in the area was identified internally by Tusla late last year.

A review has since identified the cases where the State agency should have referred suspected child abuse or neglect to gardaí, but failed to do so.

Some 122 of the cases related to suspected abuse of children currently under the age of 18, while 243 cases were adults disclosing alleged abuse that happened to them as children. Nineteen of the cases were found to have been “high priority”, and 115 deemed “medium priority”.

In a statement, Tusla said it had identified the problem in Co Kerry as a result of its “own processes of audit and investigations”.

The agency said all 365 suspected abuse cases in the area had now been referred to gardaí, and followed up by social workers.

The organisation in Co Kerry has been restructured and provided with additional staff, with measures in place to improve governance and oversight, the statement from the State agency said.

“Tusla is now satisfied that all matters are being attended to and the improvement is ongoing and will remain under national focus,” it said.

Following concerns over the failures to refer cases to the Garda in the Kerry area, Tusla conducted a national audit into the issue.

The internal audit, seen by The Irish Times, found that on a national level in 13 per cent of cases of suspected abuse – which met the threshold for reporting to gardaí – the agency had failed to make referrals.

Where social workers suspect a child has been subject to physical or sexual abuse, or willful neglect, they are required to refer the case to gardaí without delay.

The audit was based on a sample of 1,535 cases and drawn from every service area in the country, apart from Kerry where a separate review was carried out.

The audit, completed this July, found 74 per cent of suspected abuse cases nationally had been referred to Garda “in a timely manner” by Tusla.

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan said it was concerning that in more than an eighth of cases, Tusla had failed to make required referrals to gardaí over suspected abuse.

The shortcomings were “a very serious breach” of Children First child protection legislation, and a result of the “heavy and pressurised workload” of social workers, he said.

The national audit found the significant under-reporting of suspected abuse in the Kerry area was not “a major systemic issue within Tusla”.

It did raise “some concerns” with the Cork area, where of 49 suspected abuse cases required to be reported to gardaí, only 25 referrals were made.

Several local areas said staffing pressures were impacting social workers’ ability to make timely referrals to gardaí, the audit said.

Other areas reported “confusion” among staff over the threshold for when a case should be passed on to gardaí, particularly when it came to alleged emotional abuse, it said.

Delays reporting cases to gardaí in some areas were due to efforts by social workers to substantiate the abuse allegations before making a referral, it said.

The audit said staffing and resource issues, as well as inconsistencies in practice between areas, were having a “negative impact on management of notifications” to gardaí. “There are also issues with record keeping in a number of areas, with regard to the recording of the rationale for not making notifications,” it said.