Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Ceisteanna (56)

Denise Mitchell


56. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied with the progress made within Tusla further to the report of the national review panel, NRP, of December 2018 into the abuse of children in care in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29681/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

Is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs satisfied with the progress made within Tusla in light of the NRP report of December 2018 into the abuse of children in care in Galway?

I thank the Deputy for her question.

The NRP summary report into this serious and distressing case was published on 28 May. 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, in 2007, to warrant the removal of the remaining foster children from the placement. It found 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 since then there have been significant changes in practices and standards. The standards and practices now used are much improved from those used in the past. Since its establishment in 2014, Tusla has worked hard to improve child protection and foster care services, by way of standards, staffing, resources and practices. There is plenty of evidence to show that positive changes are happening.

In respect of the NRP report, I have been advised that the fostering team in Galway increased from three social workers at the time of the Galway case, to 15 whole-time equivalent social workers. Local governance has been strengthened with a principal social worker and three team leaders assigned to the fostering service. Tusla has reformed the foster care committee guidance, beginning with its review in 2016 and the implementation over 2017 and 2018. There is a stand-alone protocol for the management of concerns and allegations of abuse or neglect against foster carers since 2017 which provides an effective system of management and oversight of an investigation and its follow-up.

At the more systemic level, I fully implemented the legislation for mandatory reporting and safeguarding statements in December 2017. Tusla also launched its ambitious child protection and welfare strategy in 2017. Since last year, the first national approach to child protection cases, Signs of Safety, is being implemented for duty-intake across all 17 areas.

I thank the Minister for her response. We have to recognise the progress that has been made since this horrific case.

One of the recommendations of the review panel related to the response to the allegations of abuse and the need for an integrated response. The report notes that the Department is piloting an integrated model for investigation, assessment and management of child sexual abuse allegations to prevent repetitive interviewing of children across the different agencies and to provide ease of access to medical and therapeutic services. It also mentions the need for a clear understanding and mutual respect for each agency. Have the terms of reference for this integrated service been developed?

I thank the Deputy. I made a brief reference to this in my earlier reply to Deputy Durkan in that we have worked for some time to develop that model, which we are naming as One House, and which we hope will open in September. We had hoped to do this a little earlier but it has taken longer to bring together such an innovative model arising from recommendations from such an incident. It came out of the reports from Dr. Shannon to myself and the Department. We travelled to the United States and different parts of the UK to see how they were bringing the different professionals together in one setting in order that children and their families can come to be seen and to tell their story in a context where all of the professionals are available to provide support. It means they do not have to engage in ongoing re-telling that can be re-traumatising and ways of moving forward and providing supports for them can be determined in a more efficient manner by all of the professionals being in one place.

I thank the Minister for her response.

Another issue raised in the review was how children who were subject to abuse felt that they were unable to tell anybody. This was made worse if the visits and inspections by Tusla were infrequent. They did not feel that they were in an environment in which they could share the information. The Minister has answered that question.

The Minister will agree that the staff problems in the agency are a worrying matter. This support is often based on the trust between the child and the social worker. This is why the retention of staff is so important.

The Minister stated that Tusla was rolling out the Signs of Safety child protection framework. Will she give the House an update on that?

I take on board all of the points raised by the Deputy. I am trying to outline that there are a number of recommendations, many of which had been responded to, and major changes have happened.

That is not to deny given the challenges identified by the Deputy regarding the retention of social workers, etc., the difficulties will not continue to ensue in a high-risk environment that I have identified previously. It is helpful to ask about the Signs of Safety programme as a great deal of research was carried out to see what was the best way to take a preventative and early intervention approach under the programme, to train all of the Tusla staff throughout the country, where appropriate, and to pilot and roll out the programme in the 17 regions. All of that has happened. As this continues and as the programme is fully implemented, there needs to be ongoing monitoring and reporting back. I am confident that the programme is being monitored well and is seen as a very positive aspect of Tusla's reform.