The first day of the month, and sadly reports of Tusla’s failure to protect children in their care from sexual abuse and exploitation continue to flow

Anna Kavanagh

The first day of the month, and sadly reports of Tusla’s failure to protect children in their care from sexual abuse and exploitation continue to flow

If you follow this page, you will have noticed that we have been keeping very quiet for the month of August. This was to give ourselves and you the necessary break from the unending stream of bad news reports about Tusla‘s failure to protect the children that they have taken into state care.

It doesn’t mean that we weren’t watching and observing what was going on. We have links to some of the reports about Tusla that made news headlines in August…but first let’s take a look at the report by Jack Power. In today’s Irish Times:

“There is a lack of oversight in Tusla’s management of reports to gardaí of suspected abuse of unaccompanied minors in State care from Ukraine and other countries seeking asylum, an internal report has found.

The State’s child protection agency could not be assured it was notifying gardaí “in a timely manner” of suspected sexual or physical abuse of underage refugees and asylum seekers in its care, the report said….

An internal report, dated March 22nd, 2023, raised concerns about the handling of cases of suspected abuse of unaccompanied minors.

Tusla had made 10 referrals to gardaí concerning separated children in its care in the previous year. However, there were “no systems” in place to oversee how the service was managing the reports.

There are currently 280 unaccompanied minors in Tusla’s care, a significant number of that cohort being young Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion last year.

The review, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, found immediate improvements were needed to address “the current and future risks to the safe operation” of Tusla’s service for separated children.

It said Tusla staff were “not supported to deliver a safe, sustainable service”, while separated children in State care were “not being seen regularly”, due to “staffing capacity issues”.

The report raised concerns about whether child protection concerns reported to Tusla about unaccompanied minors were being screened correctly and without delay.

“There is no management system in place to effectively record, monitor and oversee child protection referrals made to the service,” the report said.

These shortcomings posed “significant risks” to Tusla, with the report blaming “insufficient resourcing” and a lack of planning about how to meet the increased demands the service had come under.

At the time of the review, there were 206 unaccompanied minors in Tusla’s care, some as young as 10, including 78 children from Ukraine, 53 from Afghanistan and 46 from Somalia.

The report warned that expected continued numbers of separated children seeking asylum in Ireland “may place further strain” on limited resources.

The internal Tusla review team said it was not assured children were receiving “timely” follow-ups from social workers, which meant the agency could not be confident that safeguarding measures or other supports were in place. It recommended Tusla conduct an “immediate” high-level review to reform the service for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.

Governance standards required improvement and there was a lack of clear systems to review “the effectiveness and safety of child protection and welfare service provision”, it said.

The report also said a facility being used by the service posed a potentially “significant risk” to staff and young people, due to a “lack of privacy” when accessing its toilet facilities.”

Meanwhile, another Irish Times report last Monday says Tusla made an ex-parte application to the High Court in the case of a homeless mother who is blocked by court order not to see her children. Tusla claims that after receiving multiple communications from their mother and her friend, the siblings had not co-operated with their foster placement. On one occasion, it is claimed, they were instructed not to eat any food prepared for them by their foster carers, with one of the siblings not eating for five days as a result.

It says the teens were taken into care by it some time ago and removed them from their mother due to “emotional abuse”.

The mother had left the children on their own at a premises where they had resided for long periods before the agency intervened, it is claimed. The court heard that the mother wants the children back and had sent messages to various officials claiming that they were wrongfully taken from her and were being mistreated and tortured in care.(1)

The Peter McVerry Trust is charging Tusla, €1000 A DAY to house teenagers.

The Trust got over €6.5m from Tulsa to house 18 youngsters in 2022. (2)

Should also be pointed out that Peter McVerry has nothing to do with the day to day operations of the Trust. It just carries his name.

RTÉ reported that a reply to a parliamentary question submitted by Aontú to the Minister for Children states that one private company received €8,137,033 in the past 18 months.

The figures were outlined in a letter from Tusla to TD Peadar Tóibín’s office, which show that payments to the company rose from €35,099 in 2021 to €4,084,351 last year.

This year, €4,052,682 was paid to the company up until June.

In 2018, it received €238,266 from Tusla to provide special emergency arrangements. That figure rose to €389,934 in 2019.

No payment was recorded in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, while in 2021 the company was paid €35,099. (3)

The Irish Times reported that staffing levels are at less than half the required level in centres providing specialist care to some of the most vulnerable children in the State, according to Tusla.

A shortage of secure bed places means that some highly vulnerable children are being cared for in inappropriate settings. At the beginning of August, a High Court judge said he had “no option” but to order for the continued detention of a chronically suicidal teenage girl in an inappropriate unit until a secure care place is available.

Dublin South Central TD Mr Costello said there was a “crisis” in placements in Tusla generally and that what was happening in special care was “impacting on the most challenging and vulnerable young people in the care system”.

He called for the introduction of a special allowance for staff working in the units in recognition of the unique nature of working there. (4)

Alison O’Reilly reported in the Irish Examiner that Ray Noctor, 64, from Co. Carlow, who was put into St Joseph’s Industrial School in Co. Kilkenny when he was eight years old, shortly after his mother Kathleen died from pneumonia is the first man to sue the State after he was sexually abused in an industrial school.

He said recent reports from the foster care system and the structure of the latest redress scheme show “the Irish government didn’t care about children then — and it doesn’t care now”. (5)

Last year, according to a report in the Irish Times, judges made care-related orders in respect of 14,985 incoming cases, a rise of 4,694 from four years prior, a 46 per cent since 2019 (6)

Another report in The Irish Times says Senior Tusla staff met with Department of Children officials on May 24th, 2023, to discuss “current concerns” about the organisation in relation to the fallout from its failure to deal effectively with reports of child sex abuse by Order of Malta personnel.

A Tusla review of the organisation’s child safeguarding policy statement in 2020 found it fell short of required standards, but was later brought into compliance, the meeting heard. (7)

Gript Media has published a report questioning why there’s a lack of urgency relating to the recent UCD report which alleged the sexual abuse of teenage girls under the care of Tusla by gangs of predatory males. (8)

These are the reports that came upon our radar. If we have missed something, please let us know in the comment section below.

The Alliance of  Birth Mothers Campaigning for Justice pays tribute to the journalists who have brought us these reports which are vital in creating public awareness of the vast failures abounding in Tusla

Anna Kavanagh is Co-Founder and Convenor for the Alliance of  Birth Mothers Campaigning for Justice