The finding by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, was responsible for long delays in dealing with allegations of abuse is a concern. An examination of a selection of complaints received by the Ombudsman's office, as well as those filed directly with Tusla, has highlighted "serious failings" in how the agency carries out its role.
Among the findings of Tyndall’s report are: undue delay in dealing with abuse allegations; people against whom allegations have been made not fully informed of alleged details; inconsistencies in policy implementation; poor note-taking and record-keeping; poor communication; inadequate training for staff in some policies; and failure to always tell complainants they can seek a review by the Ombudsman. Tyndall said the rights of those accused were breached in some cases.
Worryingly his conclusions echo those of the 2016 Children’s Ombudsman annual report, which found Tusla was operating as a “crisis agency” with “clear inconsistencies”. In one especially harrowing case, which took five years to conclude, a grandfather accused of child abuse had no contact with one of his grandchildren and feared he might die without seeing the child. It took the personal intervention of the Ombudsman before the grandfather could see the child again. The man died nine months later, before his name was cleared.
Tusla accepted the findings and agreed to implement recommendations aimed at improving procedures. It said it had been working to enhance its performance for the past 12-18 months and had established its own complaints unit.
Tusla had a difficult birth, taking responsibility for child welfare and protection from the Health Service Executive four years ago. It inherited a case backlog and a shortage of staff. And also, it appears, some of the dysfunctional culture of its parent organisation. Tusla operates in a sometimes opaque area. However, there can be no excuse for not getting the basics of child protection right.