The Irish Times view on Scouting Ireland: restoring public trust
The organisation must act, given Tusla's concerns about its safety practices
Because of the concerns raised by the State’s child and family agency Tusla about the supervision and safety practices operated by Scouting Ireland, immediately action should be taken by that organisation to implement the recommended changes. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Public trust is an indispensable requirement for the successful operation of any voluntary organisation, particularly when the safety and wellbeing of children is at risk.
Due to the concerns raised by Tusla, the State’s child and family agency, about the supervision and safety practices operated by Scouting Ireland, immediate action must be taken by that organisation to implement recommended changes.
Scouting Ireland and its child safety officer Ian Elliott believe the organisation has been unfairly criticised. Elliott was “baffled” by the letter outlining Tusla’s concerns, he said, because the policies now in place accorded with best practice and Scouting Ireland had fully cooperated with the State agency. He took exception to criticism of the way recent incidents had been handled, stating Tusla’s assessment was not the full picture.
Concerns raised by Tusla struck at the heart of child protection measures and it appeared the highest standards in training, oversight and disclosure were not being met
As the man who helped to expose a history of cover-ups within Scouting Ireland and, earlier, in the Catholic Church, Elliott may feel badly treated. The reality, however, is that Scouting Ireland and its protective mechanisms do not fully accord with laws and official guidance.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, who withheld funding from the organisation on two previous occasions over concerns with governance, has demanded action on this report.
Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon said parents had to be reassured about their safety. Concerns raised by Tusla struck at the heart of child protection measures, he said, and it appeared the highest standards in training, oversight and disclosure were not being met.
Whatever about bureaucratic skirmishing, the protection of children must come first
Scouting Ireland is in the process of dealing with a dark past, when the predations of adult members over many decades affected the lives of hundreds of children. It has not been easy. Last year, the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation was found to be “deeply flawed”, exposing wider inadequate protection practices.
It now appears the changes introduced following those events do not, in some instances, meet legislative requirements and that training for volunteers in the safeguarding of juveniles will have to be improved.
The Tusla report concentrates on the potential for child abuse – and the likely political fall-out – rather than on measures already taken by Scouting Ireland to prevent it. The suggestion that consideration should be given to suspending overnight camping trips has caused considerable concern to parents.
Such events represent a key feature of the organisation and encourage young people to become independent. Urgent meetings are now being demanded by both Tusla and by Scouting Ireland to devise a reform agenda and to secure explanations. Whatever about such bureaucratic skirmishing, the protection of children must come first.