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Internal Tusla documents reveal staff complained of poor engagement from Scouting Ireland

Early drafts of a letter that caused a row between the agency and Scouting Ireland contained stronger criticism of the organisation than the final version.

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INTERNAL TUSLA DOCUMENTS reveal staff who were assessing Scouting Ireland’s safeguarding policies at the start of this year complained about the initial level of engagement from the organisation, which is embroiled in a historic sex abuse scandal.

Tusla no longer has concerns about safeguarding within Scouting Ireland but the correspondence tracks the problems it did have at the beginning of 2019, prior to “developments which have taken place since”.

The documents, released to TheJournal.ie through a Freedom of Information request, include complaints from one Tusla officer to colleagues about Scouting Ireland’s lack of interaction with her earlier this year.

In February a manager also told a colleague “we have had to pursue them for engagement”.

This same month Scouting Ireland was issued with a ‘failure to furnish’ letter in relation to a request to update its child safeguarding statement.

The organisation was warned that further failure to send Tusla a statement that included feedback it had received may result in a non-compliance notice which could see SI added to the public register of non-compliance.

The documents also reveal earlier drafts of a letter – that caused a public row with Scouting Ireland – contained much stronger wording, recommending the immediate halt of overnight stays and the discontinuation of its victims helpline until it could be made more independent. 

Row about overnight stays

It was revealed last year that a Scouting Ireland review found evidence that there were as many as 71 alleged abusers and 108 alleged victims at Scouting Ireland, with most cases dating between the 1960s and 1980s.

Up to March this year, there were 401 sexual abuse complaints and 247 alleged abusers identified on file in Scouting Ireland and work on a report on historical sex abuse in the organisation continues. 

The Department of Children decided to freeze the organisation’s funding after the allegations emerged, but later reinstated it. Minister Catherine Zappone earlier this month said she is giving “very careful consideration” to the establishment of a statutory inquiry. 

A row erupted in February this year after the minister said Scouting Ireland had been told by Tusla to consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips. She told the Dáil that the child and family agency had recommended that the organisation carry out an immediate review of the supervision of children involved in scouting. 

She published the Tusla letter, which also outlined concerns about the way in which more recent allegations had been handled, including incidents reported on camping trips.  Scouting Ireland was strongly critical of Tusla’s decision to send this letter, with the organisation’s safeguarding expert Ian Elliott calling for it to be withdrawn.

He said at the time that SI was “as safe as it can be and getting safer, we’re working on it all the time”. In a response, SI asked for an explanation for concerns about its overnight trips and said this matter was never raised by Tusla in any of its meetings. 

‘He had not been responding’

Documents released to TheJournal.ie reveal the internal discussions in Tusla that led up to the decision to send this letter and earlier drafts that contain much stronger wording than the final version.

One draft states all Scouting Ireland overnight trips should be immediately suspended and the helpline for victims should be “immediately discontinued and manned only by independent, appropriately qualified individuals with no affiliation to Scouting Ireland”. 

The final version asked Scouting Ireland to “consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips” and advised that “consideration should be given” to ensuring the personnel manning the helpline are independent of SI and have the appropriate qualifications and experience. 

An earlier draft also expressed concern about Scouting Ireland’s “willingness to accept the seriousness of the situation”. This wording was not included in the final version. 

Children First Information Advice Officers (CFIAO) in Tusla had been tasked at the beginning of the year with reviewing SI’s safeguarding policies and procedures to ensure they were up to date and congruent with the expectations of the Children First Act.

This section liaises with voluntary organisations and provides guidance on this legislation. 

  • After a meeting on 8 January between Tusla staff and Scouting Ireland representatives, one of these officers contacted SI the next day to outline the action plan that had been agreed.
  • On 17 January she sent SI a feedback report after a review of its code of practice and a number of recommendations.
  • An email sent with the attachment mentioned “a number of procedures” referred to in this code which would also need to be “reviewed and updated”. It later emerged that its camps and overnight statement was among the policies that needed to be reviewed.
  • On 28 January the CFIAO section notified a manager that there had been no response from SI since the meeting on 8 January. 
  • Scouting Ireland did not reply to the 8 January email, a follow-up on 16 January or the 17 January email with the recommendations until 8 February.
  • A SI manager apologised in the response for the delay but did not give a reason for it. This email also gave an update on some areas of progress such as training.
  • A number of managers in Tusla received a report on 13 February outlining concerns about safeguarding policies and procedures and an initial analysis of six recent sample cases, some of which involved camping trips.
  • Two days later, the CFIAO who had written multiple times to SI, told a colleague in another unit: “…no we have only had an email from [Scouting Ireland representative] a few days ago. He had not [been] responding to our correspondence. We all really need to link in.” She said a letter was being prepared to go to the Scouting Ireland CEO.

This was the controversial letter that resulted in a row between the agency/the Department of Children and Scouting Ireland at the start of this year. 

‘Extremely concerning lack of supervision’

After the details of this letter were made public, Scouting Ireland responded with a lengthy statement, asking Tusla to provide evidence about why it questioned the viability of overnight trips.

“It would be helpful to understand what evidence Tusla has for suggesting that Scouting Ireland should consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips,” the statement said.

Overnight trips and the experience of camping outside at night is an experience every scout should have the opportunity to enjoy and we have a strong policy framework in place to support this activity in Scouting Ireland. Again this matter was never raised by Tusla in any meetings with our organisation.

Scouting Ireland also questioned several other statements made by Tusla in its letter. The organisation said that Tusla made a “serious allegation” in alleging that “the actions of key personnel holding a role in safeguarding may have been compromised”.

“This is a most serious allegation, which we would have responded to immediately, had we known or understood Tusla’s concerns. It has not been raised in any of our meetings with Tusla,” Scouting Ireland said.

The organisation said it had “completed the most comprehensive review of safeguarding” and questions why Tusla has suggested another review is needed.

The statement asked “what evidence does Tusla have” that this is necessary.

Internal Tusla documents include a reply to this fiery statement, drafted by the CFIAO who had repeatedly raised concerns internally about policies and about SI’s engagement.

In it, she wrote: “Our experience is that SI did not engage with the process and the CFIAO proceeded with some of the actions we had agreed to undertake.”

She also wrote that the review of six cases currently reported to Tusla exposes “poor practice in terms of how concerning situations should be addressed”.

It also showed an extremely concerning lack of supervision and care of the children who were in the care of SI on trips and camps.

And she said it was “evident from the sample of cases that interviews were conducted and conclusions in relation to the validity of a claim of sexual assault was determined by the [Scouting Ireland] safeguarding team which is outside their remit”.

In relation to the recommendation about the independence of the helpline, she wrote that her section “questioned the transparency and ethics of an organisation dealing with complaints made against it”.

“We believe that this could act as a barrier to potential victims of historical abuse…” she added.

There have been around 200 calls to this helpline since it was set up. 

‘Confusion’

Although the strongest criticism came from this unit, another section of Tusla had also raised engagement problems at the start of this year.

In December last year, the Child Safeguarding Statement Compliance Unit (CSSCU) wrote to a number of scouting dens requesting their child safeguarding statements.

Scouting Ireland told Tusla dens had been sent a template to adapt, depending on the activities the children in the group are involved in. However Tusla documents reveal dens sent the agency the generic Scouting Ireland template.

When the unit requested individual adapted versions with site-specific risk assessments, this “led to some confusion”, one staff member wrote. She wrote that dens “do not understand what a risk assessment is”.

  • This unit later sent suggestions on how to improve Scouting Ireland’s safeguarding statement, in line with the Children First legislation and offered to meet with representatives if assistance was required.
  • She wrote again 10 days later seeking an update and again offered a meeting if guidance was needed. In a response, a Scouting Ireland representative said staff would be working on the statement the following day.
  • Tusla wrote again the following week to notify Scouting Ireland that the timeline for sending the updated statement had expired and they “really need it ASAP”. Tusla was told it would have it in the “next few days”.
  • Three days later Scouting Ireland sent its updated statement, but the Tusla staff member wrote in internal records that it was “the same as the previous submissions”. Scouting Ireland sent it again with changes highlighted in red.
  • “Scouting Ireland had put in none of the requested updates, had excluded the Risk Assessment,” a Tusla record stated.

A ‘failure to furnish’ letter was sent on 11 February. The organisation was warned that failure to furnish Tusla with a copy of the statement with its feedback included within 10 days “may result in you being served with a non-compliance notice, which may in turn result in you as a provider and your org being added to the public register of non compliance”.

A Scouting Ireland manager told Tusla that it had sent the incorrect version. However the updated version was not sent until the following day, after the Tusla staff member had sent a template form to follow.

In internal correspondence a senior manager in this unit told the CFIAO section that he shared concerns about SI policies and procedures and “would be of the view that it will take some ongoing work with SI to afresh the overall improvement to acceptable standards of child protection practices”.

“We have had to pursue them for engagement and issued a failure to present notice to which they responded.”

The updated SI statement was found to be compliant, but this did not allay concerns among staff who had been looking at the organisation’s policies and procedures.

“Even though the statement might read as compliant it does not mean the policies and procedures are in place to support the statement – which means the statement itself does not keep children safe,” a manager wrote on 1 March. 

Tusla ‘very satisfied’

In a statement this week, Tusla told TheJournal.ie that Scouting Ireland provided a comprehensive overview of their learning after Tusla identified areas of concern. 

Based on current information Tusla is very satisfied with the revised procedures in place regarding the management of child protection reports, and that the progress against the action plan was timely and it has not identified any systemic issues.

“As the State agency with statutory responsibility for the protection and welfare of children we must always put the safety of children first and it is necessary for us to engage with organisations and highlight areas of concern, as part of our usual business process,” Tusla said.

“It is in this context that we raised concerns and made recommendations to assist Scouting Ireland reach compliance in these important areas.”

Tusla said it continues to liaise with Scouting Ireland regarding Children First and overall child safeguarding.

“We don’t currently have any concerns in relation to Scouting Ireland’s practices regarding Children First and overall child safeguarding and as with all organisations involved with children we continue to support improved practice on a continuous basis,” it said. 

Scouting Ireland told TheJournal.ie that its relationship with Tusla “is a professional one and our safeguarding team are constantly engaged with Tusla on all aspects of safeguarding”. 

“These engagements are conducted in a spirit of co-operation as providing a safe environment for young people is a priority for both organisations,” it added. 

“Earlier this year Scouting Ireland and Tusla agreed a joint action plan which has been implemented in full. This action plan was one of many positive activities undertaken to strengthen safeguarding within Scouting Ireland and we continue to work closely with Tusla and all the statutory agencies.”

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