This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 25 February, 2020
Advertisement

Dying man refused access to grandchildren over 'unfounded' abuse allegation

A new report from the Ombudsman highlighted case studies where Tusla failed to adequately investigate abuse allegations.

Image: Shutterstock/Impact Photography

A MAN WHO had to wait five years to have his name cleared of “unfounded” abuse allegations was denied access to see his grandchildren, even though he was dying.

It wasn’t until after the man had died that his name was exonerated, but he was afforded the chance to see his grandchildren before he passed away.

The case is just one of those detailed in Taking Stock, a report published yesterday by the Ombudsman on how Tusla handles allegations of abuse against adults. The investigation found long delays were characteristic of such examinations, and this case is one such example.

“It took several interventions”

Referred to in the report as Mr Lynch, it details how he and his wife initially had supervised access to their grandchildren who were in long-term foster care.

The Lynch family also had two teenage children living with them when an allegation was made (by the mother of the grandchildren) of historic abuse against Mr Lynch.

This access to the grandchildren was subsequently put on hold by the HSE (and then Tusla) on the foot of these allegations.

The gardaí were called in to investigate the claims and, after a file was sent to the DPP, it was determined that there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with a criminal case.

Despite this, the HSE said it would be conducting an “internal investigation” into the claims. Two years after the original allegations were made, the HSE wrote to Lynch and told him that the claims were considered “inconclusive”.

At this time, however, no credibility assessment of the allegations had been undertaken by social workers and no risk assessment had been made in regard to Lynch’s teenage children living at home.

In other words, the allegation meant that Lynch couldn’t see his grandchildren, but still had his own children living at home.

When the responsibility for child protection services was transferred to Tusla, it was then that the Ombudsman became involved.

Tusla agreed to perform an independent assessment of risk but, due to Lynch’s failing health, he was unable to do the assessment.

“This was a very difficult case,” Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said at the launch of the report yesterday.

At this stage, years had passed and his health was failing. He was very ill and wanted to see his grandchildren. It took several interventions from this office to make it happen.

After the Ombudsman became involved, Lynch was eventually granted access to see his grandchildren.

He died some months later. At the time of his death, he had not been exonerated from this allegation.

More than five years after the original complaint was made, Tusla then acknowledged that the allegation was “unfounded”.

So what happened?

Tyndall identified that a key part of the long delay in getting this abuse allegation properly looked at and handled was the allocation of social workers to the case.

He said: “Part of the reason for all of this is Tusla did not have a sufficient level of social workers to meet demand.

There was a turnover of social workers on this case, and each time there was a handover… [it] leads to inconsistency and delay.

The Ombudsman called it a “classic example” of what happens when there are insufficient IT systems in place.

“This man died without his name being cleared,” Tyndall said. “It can be complicated and time-consuming to reach a conclusion in these cases.

But there were delays – it wasn’t pursued with sufficient urgency.

The Ombudsman said that, in highlighting cases such as this, it was important to see whether the delays here are simply a “once-off” or indicative of more systemic issues within Tusla.

In this regard, its audit of Tusla found:

  • Long delays in the allocation of cases involving allegations of abuse to social workers.
  • Long delays in contacting people who made allegations.
  • Long delays before interviews commenced with the person subject to an allegation of abuse and in concluding assessments.
  • Significant delays in responding to complainants.

In response to the “significant challenges” it faces in investigating allegations of abuse detailed in the report, Tusla said: “Tusla must delicately balance constitutional rights… Tusla must ensure that none of these rights is breached, while at all times remaining fair, impartial and objective.

The current legal framework with respect to managing allegations is inadequate and not equipped to meet both the needs of children and protect the rights of individuals against whom allegations have been made.

Anonymous allegations

In another case highlighted in the Ombudsman’s report, a man – referred to as Mr Smith – had complained about the way the social work department had handled an anonymous allegation made against him.

“This was a gentleman who worked with children,” Tyndall said. “An anonymous allegation was made to gardaí who notified Tusla. It took an awful long time to solve this case.”

When the case was referred by gardaí to social workers, details about the name and phone number of the alleged victim were not provided to Tusla.

“This meant that social workers had no means of contacting the alleged victim to conduct a credibility assessment before meeting with Mr Smith,” the report said.

Furthermore, in the report on the allegation “even the most basic information was lacking”. There was no information on where or when the alleged incident occurred.

It had been alleged that Smith had acted aggressively towards another adult in the presence of a child. Although this allegation was withdrawn, social workers still decided to interview Smith to inform him of the allegation and seek his response.

Six months after Tusla was told about the allegation, social workers sent a letter to Smith, stating that they wished to meet him regarding an alleged incident involving himself and another person.

“This letter caused Mr Smith considerable distress,” the report said. Tyndall expanded on this yesterday and said the man thought he was at risk of losing his job over this. Smith had to ring Tusla to find out more information about what was being claimed before the meeting.

In the wake of the meeting, social workers asked gardaí for contact details of the person who had made the complaint and, two months later, were provided with this information. A phone number, but not a name, was provided by the gardaí, however.

A month later, Smith was told the allegation was “unfounded”. The report said:

The social workers explained to Mr Smith that the assessment had taken longer than expected, as the alleged victim did not make contact with them. Mr Smith was understandably highly concerned about his garda vetting status, as this could have a major impact on his employment… Mr Smith’s life and livelihood was put on hold during this period of time due to the uncertainty about his garda vetting.

Instead of referring Smith to the garda vetting bureau, a social worker gave “information that was misleading”. After another two months he was told his vetting would not be affected because the allegation was “unfounded”. Smith was issued with a written apology by Tusla afterwards.

Tyndall added that, while it is Tusla’s job to safeguard children, it is for the gardaí to bring prosecutions.

Redress

At the close of yesterday’s press conference, a reporter asked Tusla’s director of quality assurance Brian Lee what redress was offered to Lynch’s family.

The question was not answered directly, and so it was asked a second time.

“A written apology and appropriate redress,” Lee said.

Read: ‘We need consistency’: Long delays by Tusla in dealing with abuse allegations, report says

Read: Foster carers ‘felt disrespected’ by social workers, report finds

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Sean Murray

Read next:

COMMENTS (27)