Tusla, the child and family agency, incorrectly copy and pasted a reference expressing concerns around "parental alcohol misuse" into the file of a single mother, who was seeking supports for her son, an internal review has found.
The mother contacted Tusla in early 2018 seeking supports for her then 15-year-old son, as he had behavioural issues and the relationship in the home had become difficult.
Social work records related to the case stated risks in the home included “concerns children are exposed to parental alcohol misuse”.
The mother, who does not drink alcohol due to a medical condition, was a single parent in the home with her two children at the time. The reference to social workers’ fears of her “alcohol misuse” were repeated in several records in the family’s case file.
An internal review by Tusla, seen by The Irish Times, found the reference to parental alcohol abuse had been added into the case file due to a copy and pasting error.
The reference to alcohol misuse had been left on a form that was used as a template by social workers. “When a copy was made of this template, it was not properly redacted and, as such, a reference to parental alcohol use was on this copied template,” the review said.
In a statement, Bernard Gloster, Tusla chief executive, apologised for "a number of failings" in how the agency handled the family's case, "many of which were avoidable", he said.
The internal review, completed on March 5th this year, found a number of entries in the family's case file were incorrect, and should be amended. The review was conducted by Patricia Finlay, Tusla regional service director, following a complaint from the mother.
In September 2018, one of the social workers in the case wrote to the Garda to report the family’s younger daughter was at risk of suspected emotional abuse.
However, a child protection conference, a key meeting attended by parents and social work professionals, held later that month, concluded neither of the children were at risk of abuse or harm.
The mother’s complaint to Tusla said the referral to gardaí stating her daughter was at risk of emotional abuse had been “incredibly disparaging”.
The review recommended Tusla write to gardaí clarifying concerns had arisen “in the context of a parent/child relationship and family stressors”, and that there was no suspicion any crime had been committed by the mother.
The review was ordered by Mr Gloster last July, following a meeting with the mother, where she outlined concerns with how Tusla responded to her family.
In correspondence following the meeting, Mr Gloster said it was clear aspects of how Tusla acted were “below the standards that you should reasonably be able to expect”. He apologised over the additional burden and distress caused as a result.
In a statement to The Irish Times, Tusla said: “There is no doubt in this case there were instances of poor response in aspects of the service provided, and also clear error in aspects of the records.”
Mr Gloster said he had been struck by the mother’s motivation to improve Tusla’s service for others when raising her complaint.
“Despite our shortcomings and failings, this person still found time to acknowledge the good work and the staff who had been helpful,” he said.
“We are happy to confirm again in public, as we have in private, our very sincere apology for a number of failings, many of which were avoidable,” he said.