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 Header Item Child Protection (Continued)
 Header Item Child Abuse

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone]   It is important to point out that all child-protection referrals which allege current or past criminal activity are referred to An Gardaí Síochána. Tusla’s focus is to screen historical or retrospective disclosures for any indication of current risk to children. In cases of urgent risk to a child, the disclosure is acted on immediately.

  Tusla is dependent on the person making an allegation engaging directly with it and being prepared for his or her identity to be shared with the alleged abuser.

  Tusla has a limited role where there is no evidence of a current risk to children. In respect of an adult making a disclosure, Tusla may assist him or her in accessing HSE counselling services.

  I have asked Tusla to report to me monthly on the progress it is making.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I am concerned. We know One In Four recently criticised Tusla's handling of cases sent to it and what it sees as a failure to investigate properly. The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs discussed the matter, in particular Tusla senior management in Laois-Offaly in 2015. Given that many serious issues were flagged around 2015, it is concerning that the number of unallocated cases is similar to what it was at that stage.

In September I asked the Minister about a particular report on child protection issues in the Laois-Offaly area which concluded 15 months ago. Tusla said it cannot publish the report, which could contain very valuable lessons in terms of dealing with these issues in the future. I am concerned about the reply on that basis. Does the Minister think senior management is on top of this issue?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Deputy. She referred to the Laois-Offaly report. As the Deputy is aware, these are very complicated matters. I would be happy to share a table which identifies the number of open, unallocated and high priority retrospective cases for 2017. The number of unallocated retrospective cases is decreasing, although the number increased between June and July. In addition, the figure for another category, the referrals which are being received each month, has increased significantly. The figure was 93 in January, 122 in February and 139 in March. Referrals are increasing.

The number of unallocated retrospective cases decreased, although referrals are continuing to come in. It is important to note that while the number of referrals is increasing there are many months in which the number of unallocated cases is decreasing. Cases are being assigned.

The most important point to note in the table is that cases which were initially assessed as high priority, that is, where there is a suspicion of risk to a child, comprised 177 in January, 160 in February and 120 in March. From that point on, there were none. Tusla is addressing cases and allocating them where a high priority has been assessed.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly That is one way of looking at it. From our dealings with An Garda Síochána, we saw that there was a tendency in some instances to recategorise crimes in order to make them seem less serious than they were. From the point of view of cases classified as high priority, what investigations, if any, have been carried out? I am aware of anecdotal evidence in one or two areas where there was a belief that rather than cases being dealt with, recategorisation took place in order to tidy up records and make things seem less bad. One aspect of this is the management of cases.

Another aspect is the deficit in terms of a legislative framework to deal with these issues. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, for example, has talked about the lack of clarity in the current legislative framework in terms of dealing with abuse outside the family and has, for example, called for the amendment of section 3 of the Child Care Act so that these issues could be addressed comprehensively.

In responding to the Ombudsman's Taking Stock report, Tusla has referred to a legislative lack of clarity. Are any changes proposed to address the oversight of cases being potentially reclassified and the legislative deficit?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Deputy's first question was excellent. I have had many conversations with Tusla on the issue of the designation of a case as being unallocated and cases which are of high, medium and low priority. As the Deputy is aware, even though cases are unallocated assessments have been carried out by social workers. It is determined whether a child is at immediate risk and if he or she is a social worker is assigned to him or her. If there is a suspicion of criminal activity the case is sent to An Garda Síochána. If there is no immediate risk a duty social work team is assigned to the case and monitors it in different ways over a period of time until a social worker can be found.

Even though we are using the word "unallocated" that is not to say that there is no social work oversight. It is erring on the conservative side in terms of ensuring the protection of children. I am as concerned as the Deputy is about the numbers. At the same time, I am somewhat consoled by the fact that there is ongoing monitoring in that regard. In respect of the prioritisation of cases of high, medium and low priority, I am absolutely assured that the system is working and no children are currently at risk in light of retrospective cases which have been declared.

Child Abuse

 36. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the resources in place to deal with allegations of child abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43440/17]

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I am conscious that there is some overlap between my question and some previous questions. Many deal with Tusla, which underlines its important role and how important it is that we provide it with the necessary resources. I want to acknowledge that the Minister secured extra funding in the budget.

I wish to ask the Minister about the resources which are in place to deal with allegations of abuse of children and make a statement on the matter, in particular in light of the One In Four report.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I expected several questions on Tusla. It is a primary focus and I feel very confident that we are moving in the right direction.

  I am pleased to inform the Deputy I have secured an additional €40 million for Tusla. This is the third year in succession that Tusla has received an increase in its funding, which now amounts to over €753 million.

  It has embarked on a significant recruitment programme to deliver the necessary assessments, family supports and care to all children being referred for welfare or child protection reasons.

  I wish to assure the Deputy that with the current available staff all urgent and emergency cases are dealt with immediately. These include situations of abandonment or parental ill-health and the need to find an immediate placement or a threat to the safety or life of a child by a third party.

  I am very aware of the need for Tusla to recruit more social workers, social care workers and family support workers to deal with the number of cases which cannot currently be allocated.

  The additional investment of €40 million in 2018 will allow Tusla to recruit a mix of staff to respond to areas of identified risk and to meet increased demand for services. This includes resources for responding to expected increases in referrals following the introduction of mandatory reporting, as well as the management of unallocated cases and the further development of aftercare services.

  Tusla will also recruit administrative staff to support social workers in their child protection duties.

  The extra funding will also be used to establish a single national out-of-hours social work service, providing enhanced joint working with An Garda Síochána, additional on-call social work capacity and a new out-of-hours service for foster carers.

  I strongly support the work of Tusla. I am committed to providing resources to meet the growing needs of children and families. The higher increase I have secured for Tusla in budget 2018 means that resources are available to meet the priorities in the years ahead.

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