The final progress report by the Expert Assurance Group (EAG) on how Tusla deals with allegations of child sex abuse has outlined how some targets have been met but also how a shortage of funding has impeded progress in other areas.
The EAG was established arising out of the disastrous handling by Tusla of a false allegation made against garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe. In March 2017, Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, asked the Health Information and Quality Authoruty to undertake a statutory investigation into Tusla.
Since then a number of progress reports have been published, with the final report now issued.
“Overall, the EAG is satisfied with the progress that has been made by Tusla and the Department across a range of reforms and details of these are outlined below and in the body of the report,” it said in the executive summary.
That progress includes Tusla’s Executive putting four regional teams in place for the management of retrospective allegations in place as well as a revised policy – National Child Abuse Substantiation Procedures (CASP) – to guide social workers.
However, shortcomings were identified in other areas.
“The EAG considers that while substantive work has been done by Department officials in establishing a Social Work Education Group comprising all relevant stakeholders to address the shortfall in the graduate pool, it is unlikely that progress will be made in 2020,” it said.
“This is due to the absence of funding for bursaries or for the development of a national placement framework to increase the supply and the capacity of third level institutions to expand the number of social work places. Integral to the expansion of social work places will be negotiations with the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
When it came to the legal framework for the management of retrospective allegations by Tusla and communicating a concern about a person to a third party, the EAG concluded that “the existing provisions of the Child Care Act 1991 do not adequately equip Tusla to conduct investigations with a view to making findings on the balance of probabilities while also observing fair procedures”.
It recommended Tusla continue looking at an enhanced role for the National Vetting Bureau.
While noting “momentum towards interagency working”, the EAG also wanted to see the prioritising of joint specialist training between Tusla and An Garda Síochána and said “key challenges remain”.
“One of these is the lack of substantive progress in implementing the workforce strategy, in particular the lack of urgency in developing a performance achievement and development system,” it said. “Another challenge lies in increasing the number of social work graduates available to Tusla to tackle unallocated cases and retaining staff.
“It should be noted that the EAG has worked under a limited remit,” it said. “Evidence of progress has been dependent on reports submitted by Tusla’s Executive and the Department.
Responding to the publication of the report, Minister Zappone said: “I am satisfied that the report demonstrates sufficient evidence of progress and that the planned outcomes are on track to being realised. I wish to thank the Chair and the members of the Expert Assurance Group for the huge commitment and dedication that they have given this really important process.”
Bernard Gloster, CEO, Tusla, said: “While we are happy with the progress made, we must also be aware of areas where challenges remain and continue to work on these areas which include attracting and retaining staff, managing increasing demands across our services, and rebuilding public confidence.”
He said key priorities for the Child and Family Agency this year included building public confidence and improving the experience of the children and families who work with Tusla.