I propose to take Questions Nos. 445 to 447, inclusive, together.
I can inform the Deputy that Tusla currently do not collate data on the number of assessments deemed to be ‘founded’ and ‘unfounded.’
Current Tusla policy “Policy and Procedures for responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect"(September 2014), outlines the policy basis for the use of ‘founded’ and ‘unfounded.’Best practice in a number of other jurisdictions utilises the terms ‘founded’ or ‘unfounded’ as a means of concluding a position on child protection enquiries. It has been decided to use the terms 'founded' and 'unfounded' to keep in line with international best practice.
In Children First, 2011, Section 5.5, ‘Unfounded Concerns’, provides guidance on actions to be taken where, after an assessment or appeals process, concerns or suspicions of child abuse are considered as ‘unfounded.’
A ‘founded’ assessment is an authentication that a judgement has been made that evidence exists which confirms that child abuse occurred. An ‘unfounded’ assessment is one where the evidence does not support a finding of abuse. It does not mean the abuse did not occur, rather that there is a lack of evidence to support a ‘founded’ outcome. For example, there may be no convincing disclosure, no clear evidence, no witnesses, and/or no admission on the part of the Person Subject to Allegations of Abuse (PSAA).The ‘balance of probabilities’ is interpreted as the degree to which something is more likely to have occurred than not.
The key principles informing decision-making when an assessment is being made include the following:
a. The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration
b. The requirements of Children First must be met
c. Tulsa must determine and assess any current or future risk to a child
d. If a child is deemed to be at immediate serious risk the child's interest takes priority over the suspected person’s right to be informed of allegations against him/her.
e. If Tusla concludes there is an immediate serious risk to a child, this must be communicated to an appropriate relevant third party to enable Tusla to take whatever protective action is necessary
f. Maintaining children in their own home is in their best interests. If the child is living with an alleged abuser, the safety of the child is paramount
g. Social work professionals make a determination on a balance of probabilities
h. Natural justice and fair procedures must be applied in relation to persons suspected of abuse, including their right to be informed about allegations against them and to respond
i. A Tusla assessment should take representations made by a person suspected of abuse into account
j. Any action or protection plan should be signed off by all relevant parties, including the person suspected of abuse, where possible.
k. A person suspected of abuse has a right to have their data protection rights protected, to obtain legal advice, to see all relevant documentation, to submit relevant documentation, to make oral or written submissions and have these considered, to identify any third parties with relevant information for Tusla consideration for interview, and to request an independent review of the assessment undertaken by the social worker.