The Limerick man who will steer Tusla through choppy waters

Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster

SEVEN weeks ago Bernard Gloster was appointed Chief Executive of the scandal-exhausted Child and Family Agency, Tusla, having spent nine years as HSE Chief Officer for the Mid West region.

Gloster, a native of Clare Street, acknowledges there may be choppy waters ahead as he aims to steer Tusla’s 4,000-strong staff towards new horizons.

“I have to be honest, Tusla has a long way to go in stabilising itself,” he offers, as we take shelter from the rain inside Limerick’s Radisson Hotel.

There are “a huge amount of challenges” facing Tusla, he says, but with a budget of over €750 million, he has ambitions to sail the agency to calmer waters.

“I think Tusla has a long way to go to rebuilding public confidence. While there is a huge amount of good work done in Tusla everyday, there hasn’t been a lot of space to hear it, because of the very high profile and difficult stories,” he explains.

Another scandal as bad as what happened to Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, could scupper the efforts of the new chief executive.

McCabe and his family recently settled High Court proceedings taken against the state and Tusla for an undisclosed sum.

It stemmed from the creation by a Tusla counsellor of a file containing completely false allegations of serious sex abuse of a third party. The Charleton Tribunal found that the error arose by way of a ‘cut-and-paste’ error by the counsellor.

Gloster is candid about this issue that seriously damaged the agency.

“Whether they’re HIQA reports, that are quiet negative, or indeed the Disclosures Tribunal – particularly in relation to Maurice McCabe and his family – all of those have called into question significantly, public confidence in Tusla,” he says.

He’s not kidding himself with the task at hand: “I’m very confident of rebuilding confidence, but that’s a slow burner”.

He considers it “an immense privilege” to be appointed Tusla chief executive, “no more than I did to be the chief officer of the HSE in the Mid West for the last nine years”.

His experience in the last 20 years has been in senior public sector management but he regards steering Tusla as “a very different job”.

His leadership of the agency obviously involves rallying the frontline troops who have battled unrelenting fire in the trenches. Yet, once again, he is forthcoming in admitting that some of the wounds were self-inflicted.

He raises another recent scandal involving a former Tusla social worker who was jailed after he admitted possession of more than 2,500 child porn images at his home.

He is convinced that, no matter how rigorously employees are vetted there will always be “some who may stray from, or fall below the standards expected of them.

“I would hope that people would understand the difference between the behaviour of an individual, for whatever reason, and the actions of an entire workforce who in the main do a very good job.”

Have they stepped up vetting because of the case?

“Not because of this specific case, because I think to say so would be disingenuous and it would be reactive. What I would say is that we would constantly look at the process of recruitment.”

Despite some cracks in the system, he maintains that vetting standards are much higher now than they were five years ago.

“Recruitment interviews are competency-based. They drill into the evidence behind the person’s ability to do the job. Referencing is much more robust and Garda vetting is now advanced to a very high standard.

However it has to be recognised that Garda vetting is a current status about whether or not you are a person of concern or a person who has committed a crime. People who commit offences may not previously have been regarded as a person of concern.”

The health system has always been a particular concern and the well-being of children is a familiar beat.

“I had a background in childcare a long time ago. I was a social care worker in the first half of my life in the former Mid-Western Health Board.”

He saw further action in the field of residential child care and in community-based child protection and welfare. He subsequently led the delivery of health and well being, primary care, mental health and social care for both the elderly and people with a disability.

A 30-year career has also seen him work or manage every operational element of the health system, having held portfolios in both acute hospitals and community services.

Despite all the challenges and problems that have surfaced within Tusla, Bernard Gloster says he still sees “a workforce who are completely committed to their primary duty of proving care to children and to their families”.