At the launch of its 2016 Annual Report today One in Four said that most of the child protection notifications it makes to Tusla are returned as “unfounded”. In 2016 we made 91 child protection notifications to Tusla. These were based on very serious allegations made by our clients about experiences of child sexual abuse. 12 clients made a full statement to social workers. 8 of these allegations were either not investigated or were deemed “unfounded”. 3 investigations are ongoing and only 1 case came back as “founded”. In 79 cases clients choose not to meet a social worker and it is very difficult to investigate without a full statement.
Executive Director Maeve Lewis says: “We are extremely worried that dangerous sex offenders may be continuing to abuse children even though we have brought them to the attention of Tusla. Our clients are adults who were sexually abused as children, but we know that sex offenders generally continue to abuse until they are caught. The father who abused his children may now be abusing his grandchildren: the teacher who abused one generation may now be abusing the next. Tusla has made strides in putting in place retrospective teams across the country, but our figures speak for themselves. From all these very substantial allegations, only one offender is now being monitored. We believe that Tusla child protection teams need much greater resourcing to deal with the volume of notifications.”
In 2016 One in Four provided counselling to 143 adult survivors of child sexual abuse, and 53 family members, a total of 2,563 therapy hours.
Our advocacy officers supported 646 people to engage with the criminal justice system and to make child protection notifications.
40% of our clients were men which challenges the idea that boys are not sexually abused.
Almost half (46%) of our counselling clients were abused in their own families. The others were abused in the Catholic Church (11%), friends and neighbours (10%) or strangers (19%). 9% were abused by more than one person.
Suicide attempts were common among the people we met in 2016.
Maeve Lewis continues: “Our waiting list for counselling is currently closed as there are over 60 people waiting for an appointment. In 2016 we met 94 new clients and 43 of these had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. It is a huge concern that we cannot respond immediately to people who ask for our help. We are constantly worried that the people we cannot meet may be at risk of taking their own lives. This is a tragedy waiting to happen“.
In 2016 we worked with 46 sex offenders and 30 wives or partners of the offenders. 14 offenders had abused more than one child.
Maeve Lewis continues: “Working with sex offenders and their families is a core child protection strategy. Helping sex offenders understand the pathways that led them to harm a child is the key to prevention and to keep the next generation safe. We liaise very closely and effectively with Tusla child protection teams to ensure that all children with whom the offenders are in contact are dealt with. We are the only agency that works with both convicted and non-convicted sex offenders. People are travelling from all over the country to attend the Phoenix Programme showing that this programme needs to be rolled out nationally.”
In 2016 our advocacy officers supported 30 clients to make statements to the Gardaí and accompanied 25 clients to criminal trials.
Maeve Lewis ends: “Many of our clients have a very good experience with the Gardaí. They are usually very professional and yet understanding of the huge challenge it poses to give a detailed account of very painful, personal sexual trauma. Other clients have had difficulties and this often because young, untrained Gardaí are the investigating officer on the case. We warmly welcome the Gardaí plan to roll out specialist expert Protective Service Units across the country.
Very few cases of child sexual abuse ever go forward to a criminal trial. All our clients who engage in the court process describe the experience as demeaning, humiliating and re-traumatising. One client is now having flashbacks, not to the sexual abuse, but to being cross examined in the witness box. While we all support the principle of a fair trial, we question how a fair system can be so lacking in understanding of the needs of vulnerable witnesses. We welcome the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which may improve our clients’ experience of court and call on the Minister for Justice to speedily enact the Victims of Crime Bill.”
ONE IN FOUR WELCOMES THE OMBUDSMAN’S REPORT ON TUSLA
One in Four today welcomes the publication of Ombudsman Peter Tyndall’s Report on Tusla, the Child and Family agency. “Taking Stock” criticises Tusla for serious failings in it response to adults who make complaints about their experience of sexual abuse in childhood. The Report reveals long delays by Tusla in dealing with allegations of historic abuse, instances of Tusla social workers lacking empathy and a failure to follow its own procedures for investigating allegations and for keeping records.
Executive Director Maeve Lewis says: “We are very pleased that an independent investigation now confirms the difficulties we experience in supporting adult clients to engage with Tusla regarding their sexual abuse in childhood. We notify Tusla of all allegations of child sexual abuse made by our clients. Regardless of how long ago the abuse happens, it is highly possible that the person who abused our client may still be abusing children.
When our clients choose to make a full statement about their abuse to Tusla, there are often very long delays or even a refusal to meet the survivor. Indeed I sometimes have the impression that the social workers simply want to close the case as quickly as possible.
Some of our clients complain that when they are interviewed by Tusla social workers they are treated in an insensitive and sceptical manner which causes further distress.
I am also very concerned that the majority of the cases we refer to Tusla come back with a determination of “unfounded”, even when we have reason to believe that the allegation is very substantial.
I accept that in the past number of years Tusla has made a serious effort to address these concerns, and that specialist teams to deal with retrospective allegations are now in place in most Tusla areas. There are examples across the country of really excellent services. However, we still encounter major problems in other areas where Tusla staff do not even seem to work within official Tusla procedures.
At the core, this is all about protecting children from sexual harm. After all the revelations of the past decade, we should have one of the best child protection systems in the world. I understand that resourcing is a big issue. Irish social workers regularly deal with caseloads that are double those of their UK colleagues and that needs to be urgently addressed.
Until we have a child protection service that can consistently assess the risk to children and respond to keep them safe, then the lives of another generation of Irish children will be blighted by sexual abuse.