At One in four, we are deeply saddened by the distressing accounts given by child sexual abuse survivors on Prime Time last night about their experience in foster care. We are saddened but not surprised by the litany of failures of statutory child protection services to protect vulnerable children, be it in foster care or in their own families or communities.
Each week we meet adult survivors who tell us similar stories. They disclosed abuse while they were still children and either nothing was done or the response was so weak that the abuse continued. It is completely unacceptable that the responsibility for trying to stop sexual abuse should rest with the child victims. That is the responsibility of the child protections system and the Gardaí. We must also acknowledge the harm that is caused to a child when their disclosure is not dealt with properly.
We have had endless Reports and Inquiries from HIQA and the Garda Inspectorate that spell out the system failures in dealing with child sexual abuse. While some reforms have been put in place, long lists of recommendations have never been implemented. Our clients engage regularly with Tusla and it is very clear to us that child protection legislation needs to be completely overhauled. Tusla social workers do not have adequate powers or training to effectively conduct an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse. Unlike the Gardaí, they cannot even compel alleged sex offenders to take part in an investigation. That is partly why so many “unfounded” decisions are made by Tusla following investigations. Once an “unfounded” determination is made, this may be taken by family members, employers and others to mean that the allegation was untrue. In many instances this can mean that the offender goes on to abuse other children. Social workers must have the skills and authority to undertake competent investigations if other tragedies are to be avoided.
The survivors who broke their silence on Prime Time last night are to be commended for their courage in bringing the disastrous sequence of events to public attention. But they are not the first, and they will not be the last. Each time a public disclosure is made, we react with shock and horror but the same mistakes keep happening. What will it take to make us wake up as a society and put in place fundamental reforms in the way we protect children?