Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Questions (5)

Catherine Connolly


5. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 25 of 28 March 2019, when the report of the review panel which commenced on 16 May 2016 in respect of the care of three children in a foster home in County Galway will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22338/19]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Children)

When will the report of the independent review panel into the care of the three children who suffered heinous sexual abuse while under the care of the Health Service Executive, HSE, and Tusla be published? My question has taken on an acute meaning given the leak of the report last week and the 22 pages of outstanding findings.

 Earlier today, Tusla published a summary report in respect of the care of three children in a foster home in County Galway.

Once again, and particularly in light of today's publication, I would like to sincerely acknowledge the pain and distress suffered by the three women at the centre of this report.

Lessons have been learned and will continue to be learned from the findings of this investigation. No child should be exposed to the clear risks that were evident after the first disclosures in 2007.

The report provides a sober, full account of what happened, and a clear analysis of the failures that occurred in managing the case. In particular, the report finds that there was enough evidence at the time of the disclosure to warrant the removal of the remaining foster children from the placement.

It finds that the safety plan was flawed, and that there was a management failure to recognise the seriousness and complexity of the case.

These were very grave errors which have led to lives being changed forever. In the intervening years, there have been changes with Tusla's practices and standards.

They are now far advanced from those of the HSE service in the past. Tusla has worked hard to improve its child protection and foster care services, by way of standards, staffing, resources and practices, and I want to make sure that it continues to do so.

Today's report includes four recommendations. Two of these are on the development of practice within Tusla, namely, that there is a review of the national policy and procedures for the link social worker role and for Tusla to include risk assessment and skills relating to managing child sexual abuse cases as core professional development in the Signs of Safety practice framework.

A further two of the major recommendations include developing an integrated approach to the investigation, assessment and management of child sex abuse allegations.

As referenced in the report, work is already under way with the development of the One House-Barnahus model. The first centre will be in Galway.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It is also recommended that Tusla develop a multi-agency policy response to how complex cases are managed by Tusla, the Garda and areas of the HSE. This is critical to the State response to children who are being sexually abused.  The report recommends a greater recognition of the fact and dynamics involved in sexual abuse by adolescents.

The report sets out the social work practice, its context and what went wrong. It provides insight into the secrecy and dynamics of child sexual abuse that affects many families.

I am determined to complete and advance the reforms under way as part of the child protection and welfare strategy and to pursue actions to minimise the chances of anything like this happening in the future.

Did the Minister state that a summary report has been published?

Why is a summary report being published? Is that the report that was leaked last week? Do the 22 pages that were leaked last week constitute the summary report? Can the Minister clarify how it could possibly have taken until now for a summary report to be published? Is it being published simply because the pages were leaked? Who leaked them? Does the Minister have any idea? Does Tusla know who leaked the pages? It is very important that a report of this nature should not be leaked. We have raised this matter continuously during Leader's Questions. I have looked back and discovered that I raised the matter nine times in the last year. This should have come before the Dáil via the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or through the Minister opposite and it should have been presented to us in order that we could discuss it. How could it possibly have taken this long? The Minister indicated in replies to parliamentary questions I tabled that it was completed at the end of November, six solid months ago, yet we are only getting a summary report now as a result of a leak. I would really appreciate simple, straight answers to my questions.

I will do my best to answer some of those questions. We do not know who leaked the report; I assure the Deputy that it was not leaked by Tusla. The publication of the summary report was planned for today, and it was published earlier. The Deputy asked why this is a summary report and not the full report.

My understanding is that Tusla took legal advice regarding the publication of the full report. In light of the different identifications of people etc, in the report, the full report could not be published and it would need to be in summary form. The summary form outlined the recommendations for what is needed for change.

The work my Department has done tells me that it fully incorporated what is necessary in order for us to move forward with the changes.

I thank the Minister for making the effort to give me a straight answer. I have great difficulty, however, in believing in this process. I see no sign in the replies to me that today was the due date for the publication of the summary report. It simply did not occur to anyone doing the replies on the Minister’s behalf to tell me that date is today. That raises serious questions in my mind about trust.

I believe it was leaked for a purpose. I can only surmise that someone felt this report was never going to be published and then took it upon themselves to leak it. That is deeply troubling if that is what happened. I do not want to believe that narrative but, when I look back, I see nothing else. That a report on this matter should be leaked is unacceptable. Has Tusla carried out a review into the leak? It is extraordinary, given that it was carrying out a review into its behaviour and handling of this issue.

Why was it not brought back in? If today was the day, was the Minister going to bring it back in before the Government and before us in the Dáil in order that we could discuss it? Considering what happened in this case, it was set up in 2016 and three years later we get a leaked report. It goes back to heinous abuse.

I thank the Deputy.

On the first set of questions that it was never indicated to the Deputy that today was the day, I will check on that.

It was not in previous replies.

I accept that. I will check as to why that was not the case. I am not sure exactly when that decision was made. Tusla asked for the report. The report was done by the national review panel, NRP. It was then presented to the chair of Tusla and it decided to put out the report today.

I do not think any review has been done of the leak. I appreciate the Deputy is concerned about the motivations behind the leak. We are too. It was always intended that the report would be put out. Ultimately, in terms of legal advice, it was put out in summary form.