Tusla rejects claim it did not fully investigate sex abuse allegations

One in Four fears unapprehended sex offenders may be continuing to abuse

“Sex offenders generally continue to abuse until they are caught.” Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

“Sex offenders generally continue to abuse until they are caught.” Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

 

Tusla, the child and family agency, has rejected claims that it did not properly investigate allegations of child sexual abuse passed to it by the charity One in Four.

The support group said on Wednesday it was “extremely worried” that dangerous sex offenders might be continuing to abuse children even though it had brought them to the attention of Tusla.

Publishing the charity’s annual report for 2016, executive director of One in Four Maeve Lewis said most of the child protection notifications it made to Tusla were returned as “unfounded”.

These were based on “very serious allegations” made by its adult clients about experiences of child sexual abuse.

The charity supports people who have experienced childhood abuse and provides an intervention programme for sex offenders.

A total of 91 child protection notifications were made to Tusla last year. “In 79 cases clients chose not to meet a social worker and it is very difficult to investigate without a full statement,” Ms Lewis said.

Twelve clients made a full statement to Tusla social workers, of which eight were either not investigated or were deemed “unfounded” by Tusla, the charity said.

Three investigations were ongoing and only one came back from Tusla as “founded”.

“Our clients are adults who were sexually abused as children, but we know that sex offenders generally continue to abuse until they are caught,” said Ms Lewis.

Tusla had “made strides” in putting in place teams to deal with retrospective abuse, she added, but said the charity’s figures spoke for themselves.

“From all these very substantial allegations, only one offender is now being monitored. We believe that Tusla child protection teams need much greater resourcing to deal with the volume of notifications.”

Tusla response

Tusla said it received 47,399 referrals to child protection and welfare services in 2016 and it had a legal responsibility to assess the likelihood of any current or potential future risk to children.

Throughout such assessments, the safety and wellbeing of the child or children involved always took priority, including where allegations of retrospective abuse are made.

Tusla chief operations officer Jim Gibson acknowledged that One in Four made “a significant number” of notifications in 2016 and that a small number of clients made full statements to Tusla.

“However, we refute the assertion that we did not investigate eight allegations. Where a person makes an allegation and decides not to engage with social work staff regarding the assessment, Tusla staff proceed on the basis of the information available and follow through as appropriate,” Mr Gibson said.

Counselling capacity

Last year One in Four provided counselling to 143 adult survivors of child sexual abuse, and 53 family members.

Ms Lewis said the charity’s list for counselling was currently closed, as there were more than 60 people waiting for an appointment with One in Four.

“In 2016 we met 94 new clients, and 43 of these had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. It is a huge concern that we cannot respond immediately to people who ask for our help. We are constantly worried that the people we cannot meet may be at risk of taking their own lives. This is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Speaking at the event in Dublin, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the State’s special rapporteur on child protection, said there was a lack of clarity in the current legislative framework for dealing with abuse outside the family. He said section 3 of the Childcare Act should be amended so that we could deal “comprehensively” with both within and outside of the family.