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Roderic O'Gorman

Mother and Baby Homes: Forum says Tusla is 'erratic, dysfunctional and devoid of trust'

The Collaborative Forum’s report was finally published today – four years after it was compiled.

THE REPORT COMPILED by the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum in 2018 has finally been published after legal issues caused years of delays.

The report is sharply critical of a number of organisations – in particular Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. It states that survivors have found their dealings with Tusla “erratic, dysfunctional and devoid of trust”.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman presented the forum’s report to the Cabinet today, paving the way for its release – almost four years after it was compiled and two years after the Commission of Investigation submitted its final report to the Government.

In an email sent to forum members and other survivors today, O’Gorman said noted that since the publication of the Commission of Investigation’s final report in January 2021, the Department of Children “commenced a process to allow named organisations or individuals in the forum’s report an opportunity to review relevant sections and provide whatever observations they deemed appropriate”.

The minister continued: “While it was entirely a matter for the independent forum to determine how it conducted its work, this secondary process was undertaken because the Department, as sponsors of the forum, had a duty to protect the process and its participants by ensuring that fair procedures and related standard legal considerations were followed.”

He noted that nine parties, including the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth “were identified as being the subject of criticism in the forum’s report”.

“The sections relevant to each party were extracted into individual documents and, where possible, provided to the relevant parties. Each party was provided with general background information on the Collaborative Forum and advised of the intention to publish the report.

“Parties were invited to review relevant sections and advised that any observations returned would be considered by the Department in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General prior finalising arrangements for publication. This process has now been concluded,” O’Gorman told survivors.

The forum, which comprised survivors of mother and baby homes, was established in 2018 by then-Minister Katherine Zappone.

The group was designed to be a consultative platform between the Department of Children and survivors on legacy issues while the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby was carrying out its work.

Members of the forum compiled a comprehensive report detailing their concerns and recommendations. It was submitted to the Government in December 2018. However, the report was never published in full – to the dismay of many forum members.

The Government published the forum’s summary recommendations on 16 April 2019, but Minister Zappone said the full report could not be published – citing legal advice from the Attorney General.

‘Social workers have lied to me’

In its report, the forum is very critical of Tusla. It states: “The experience of forum members of engagement with Tusla is one that is demoralising and frustrating.”

The forum states that the decision to have Tusla take control of records of people who spent time in mother and baby institutions is “astonishing, regressive and a measure of unbelievable crassness and insensitivity”.

“In contrast to other public bodies characterised by a culture of service and support, such as the General Records Office. Our government must understand that refusal of access to personal records is a re-enactment of disrespectfulness, casual violence and despair of the past on our community. Plans to continue and actually extend such arrangements with Tusla are wrong. They will not succeed.”

In the report, the forum presents a number of examples of people’s negative experiences with Tusla. In one section, the report quotes a man who spent seven years in an institution as an unaccompanied child.

The man states: “I have concerns about the fact that I should believe what I was told by a social worker that my mother and extended family (that they have identified) are truly my biological family. How do I know that this is in fact true when there was no DNA testing and no actual proof to show that this statement was true?

“I would like to see an independent expert to have a DNA test to confirm that they are my biological family. I was told that my mother was dead. She was also told that her son was dead; this adds to my concerns as to who is lying.

Social workers have lied to me in the past by stating that I had attended school during my time in the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, to which I pointed out that I had never attended school during my time there. Am I really supposed to believe what a stranger tells me? That ‘this is your mother’ and I should just accept it without any proof.

The forum goes on to state that since 2014 – when Tusla began taking ownership of the files of the now defunct adoption agencies – the agency has been “pursuing a practice of withholding identity and personal information from applicants detained as children across various institutions on the basis that to release this information, could cause harm to the wider family members of the applicant”.

The forum states that every representative group it engaged with “called for the immediate removal of Tusla from their involvement in providing information services”.

The report notes: “The levels of anger, frustration and discontent with Tusla amongst service users have escalated to record numbers. They describe the culture of Tusla as one of secrecy, opaqueness and authoritarianism.

“Representative groups describe these experiences as damaging and re-traumatising the most vulnerable survivors. We are talking about men and women in their 60s, 70s and 80s who want peace and some closure in their twilight.”

O’Gorman today told survivors that, despite the fact the forum’s report is only published now, the group’s recommendations “have directly influenced the important ongoing work of my Department and others in seeking to address the priority concerns of survivors and their families”.

“The achievement of forum participants in representing the voices of survivors has had real value and meaningful impact in the context of the State’s response. It is my commitment, and that of the Government, to continue to support facilitated engagement with survivors,” the minister added.

Under new legislation, as of last month, adopted people can access their birth certificates, medical records and early life information.

The Birth Information and Tracing Act also enables people to access this information if their parent has died, and for access by the next of kin of a child who died in an institution. Implementation of the legislation is being overseen by Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

Tusla apology – ‘defensive, outdated and paternalistic approach’

Responding to the publication of the forum’s report, a spokesperson for Tusla said that the agency “recognises the work of the forum and the importance of listening to experiences and issues of concern for people whose lives were impacted by mother and baby institutions, state involvement in their lives and their subsequent attempts to seek information, identity, and recognition”.

The spokesperson stated: “Tusla is in no doubt that many people felt they had been let down by the State, including Tusla, when it came to seeking information on their identity and early life.

A risk averse, defensive, outdated and paternalistic approach was the experience of many. This – added to a weak legislative framework – left many without information and answers.

Tusla CEO Bernard Gloster today noted that the forum’s report is “at the core of why two changes that have been pursued in the intervening years are so necessary”.

“The first is the new legislation (Birth Information and Tracing) finally enables us to give people what they need about their identity and early life care.

“While in its early stages of the first few weeks we are challenged by the numbers, we will resolve that and for the years ahead there is now the facility to tell people who they are and for many also commence that journey of tracing,” Gloster said.

As reported by The Journal in October, the waiting time for adopted people to get their records and early life information had tripled from 30 days to 90 days with weeks of the new service accepting applications.

Gloster added that the “second important change” is “the culture of public services within Tusla, be that in adoption or in our many other responsibilities to the whole population”.

It is no longer acceptable for us to have values unless we clearly demonstrate those in how people experience us. We work in very complex personal matters and with multiple pieces of legislation. We must pursue the highest standards of professionalism in that work.

“However we can never stop challenging ourselves to do better in the culture of the organisation and how our values of trust, respect, kindness, and empowerment are experienced by the people we serve. We have previously apologised to people who in their search for information had a bad experience of us.

“Regardless of any legal framework issues we would never wish for anyone to be hurt, and in as much as they attribute that to us we do again offer that same apology with the assurance we are and will continue to improve. Change and progress since 2018 is clearly evident but we always have more to do, and this report is another imperative for that.”

Special Advocate

At today’s Cabinet meeting, ministers also approved O’Gorman’s proposal to appoint a new Special Advocate for Survivors of Institutional Abuse.

This proposal originates in the Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions, which contains a number of measures designed to “address broader experiences of institutional trauma”.

The Government has agreed that the role of the Special Advocate “will be to ensure survivors’ views are central to the delivery of the State’s response to the legacy of institutional trauma in Mother and Baby or County Home institutions, Magdalene Laundries, Industrial Schools and Reformatories and related institutions”.

In his email to survivors, O’Gorman said: “This represents a new holistic and inclusive approach and acknowledges the shared and unique elements of survivors’ lived experience and the impact of those experiences on their needs today.

“The fundamental importance and value of structured engagement with survivors has become increasingly evident in the past two years, with significant numbers of survivors and their families making contact with the State for the first time. I recognise that dedicated structures and resources are needed to independently support this engagement.”

The Special Advocate will “manage and facilitate consultation with survivors, their families and supporters to identify and discuss issues of concern for them”.

O’Gorman stated that the primary role of the Advocate “will be to represent the collective interests of those who suffered institutional abuse so that their views inform the delivery of the State’s response”.

The role will operate independently from the Department of Children and will be “supported by a dedicated secretariat and an Advisory Council of survivors”.

“This will ensure the Advocate’s work is informed by the lived experience and needs of those most centrally affected,” O’Gorman added.

The appointment of the Special Advocate will be made following an independently-managed open recruitment process which “will begin as quickly as possible”.

There has been widespread criticism over the lack of communication between the Government and survivors in recent years – in particular since the Commission’s final report was published in January 2021.

A number of survivors have told The Journal they believe their wishes have been ignored in relation to issues such as redress and how the Commission handled their testimony.

During a debate on redress at the Oireachtas Children’s Committee today, members expressed their frustration that several amendments to the proposed legislation were ruled out of order by the standing order committee because of “financial implications”.

All mothers who spent time in an institution are eligible for redress under the scheme, but people who spent time in an institution as a baby are not eligible for compensation unless they spent more than six months there.

There has been much criticism of this fact in recent months, with experts saying it does not take into consideration the lifelong impact of family separation and early trauma.

People who accept redress under the scheme will have to sign a legal waiver confirming they will not take future legal action against the State.

Redacted Lives


The Journal last week launched a new six-part documentary series about mother and baby homes, telling the stories of women and children who passed through the system.

Redacted Lives will follow the experiences of mothers who ended up in institutions because they became pregnant outside marriage, as well as people born into the system.

Tens of thousands of pregnant women and girls were sent to mother and baby homes in Ireland throughout the 20th century. Their children were usually adopted or sent to industrial schools – often without their mother’s consent.

Mother and baby homes existed in many countries but the proportion of unmarried mothers sent to institutions here is believed to have been the highest in the world.

Many women have tried to find their children over the years, but to no avail. Adopted people also struggled to find their parents, or information about their early life.

These people were silenced for decades – and when the State finally said it would investigate the system via a Commission of Investigation, many of their stories were dismissed and disregarded.

Redacted Lives gives those women and their children the chance to tell the real story of mother and baby homes, and how the State continues to deny survivors access to information, proper redress and ownership of their true identities.

Finally, they get to speak in their own words, in their own voices.

New episodes will be released every Thursday. Subscribe to the series wherever you get your podcasts.

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If you passed through a mother and baby home or another institution and want to share your story, you can contact us in confidence by emailing