Tusla Mid West taking two years to investigate claims of child sex abuse

The Tusla Limerick offices on Mulgrave Street.

FOSTER parents and others cleared of claims of child sexual abuse are having their lives and livelihoods destroyed by delays of up to two years by Tusla Mid West in investigating claims.

That and the fact that the Tusla team dedicated to this particular area were operating with just one-third of the staff needed, were key findings that emerged following a probe by health watchdog HIQA.

Staff shortages resulted in delays in progressing almost 100 cases to even the most preliminary stage, meanwhile leaving the children involved at potential risk.

The inspection, carried out in December 2023, focused on the implementation of Tusla Mid West Child Abuse Substantiation Procedure (CASP), which came into operation on 27 June 2022.

The team deals with substantiating claims of abuse, current and historical, reported either by the victim, a professional working with them, or a relevant third party.

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The team is also responsible for determining whether the claim is unfounded or making further reports to Gardaí.

The inspection report also showed there were delays of between four and six months in notifying the Garda Vetting Bureau once a determination had been made.

All of the delays were attributed to shortages of qualified staff.

As part of their probe, HIQA invited parties who had been involved in investigations to contact them about their experience.

The report stated that HIQA was contacted by a person who “had an allegation made against them” and “at the time of the inspection, the assessment of the allegation had concluded and the allegation was determined to be unfounded”.

The person spoke about the impact of the accusation on their wellbeing, saying “for over two years, it hung over me”, telling an inspector that “this allegation has been detrimental to my mental health”.

The inspectors also said that the impact of the length of the process was raised as a concern by Tusla professionals external to CASP, “in particular about the impact on foster carers who had allegations made against them”, who explained that “[CASP] cases are ongoing for longer than two years and we are not able to talk about it to foster carers”.

The TUSLA staff told inspectors that such delays in investgations “[destroy] foster carers’ confidence. Foster carers feel very vulnerable for a long time afterwards.”

They added that, in their opinion, delays in investigation allegations was contributing to some carers leaving fostering.

At the time of the inspection, the CASP team was working at a third of its staffing capacity, losing around 111 social work hours per week.

According to the report, there had been no unallocated CASP cases up to June 2023. By mid-November that year, there were 98 cases awaiting allocation, with the majority (89) waiting for the investigation to take its very first steps.

Steps were being taken to try to remedy staff shortages, HIQA reported, stating that data provided two weeks before the inspection showed the CASP team had 89 cases awaiting preliminary steps into investigations, reduced to 70 by the final inspection day.

However, this was the only one of five areas where the service was found to be non-compliant.

The report said that “staff demonstrated knowledge of legislation, policy, and standards relevant to their roles” and an “awareness and knowledge of Children First, data protection legislations, and the importance of fair procedures”, as well as demonstrating “sensitivity to the traumatic nature of disclosures”.

Inspectors however identified “delays at all stages, including delays at point of referral before transferring over to the CASP team”.

The report said that “one retrospective allegation waited two months from receipt of referral in April 23 … to its transfer to the CASP team in June 23, while another waited seven months from March to November 2023 to be transferred”.

“Inspectors reviewed two cases where a notification had been sent the Vetting Bureau and three cases where a decision was made to send a notification to the Vetting Bureau but had not yet been sent,” the report read.

“Delays were identified in all five cases. These delays ranged from between four and six months. In two of the cases, these delays were as a direct result of the case being unallocated (to a staff member).”