Members login

Goforgotten
password

Join IASW today

Apply Now

News

Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse becomes law

  • 11 Dec 2017

The number of Tusla social workers is continuing to decline and there was a further 3% increase last summer in the backlog of high-priority child protection cases which had not been assigned to members of the profession.

www.rte.ie

Monday, 11th December 2017

The figures were obtained from Tusla as Minister for Children Katherine Zappone hailed today's introduction of mandatory reporting of suspected abuse for putting an end to 20 years of stalling by governments.

From today, thousands of professionals, such as teachers, doctors, nurses and gardaí, must report suspicions of child abuse to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

They are also legally obliged to help Tusla, if requested, in assessing a reported concern.

However, figures provided by the agency to RTÉ News show a 2% reduction in its complement of social workers over the past 14 months and a 3% increase, between last June and August, in the backlog of high-priority child protection cases which had not been assigned to social workers.

A spokesperson for Tusla said that, over the past year, it had filled 35 additional posts - half of them frontline practitioner roles - in preparation for today's initiative and that it is assigning more experienced staff to conduct more enhanced preliminary inquiries and initial assessments of abuse reports.

A spokesperson for Minister Zappone said Tusla's most recent budget allocation provides for the recruitment of 300 extra staff to deal with mandatory reporting, including 185 extra social workers.   

 

A retired Associate Professor in Child Protection said she has some concerns over the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse.

Dr Helen Buckley said there were concerns with the capacity of Tulsa to deal with an increase in reporting. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said diverting everything into one agency that "cannot really cope with any more capacity" would not be helpful. 

Dr Buckley said recent inquiries have shown that lack of reporting has not been the problem in Ireland, but rather a poor handling of issues and a lack of resources. 

She said the responsibility for child protection tends to lie with State agencies like Tusla, whereas it should be spread around Government departments. 

Dr Buckley called for adequate training to be invested at primary undergraduate level.

The Children's Ombudsman said the introduction of mandatory reporting of suspected abuse required a Government commitment to make sure no child falls through the cracks.

Also speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Niall Muldoon said its introduction "is going to be vital".

He said all the reports suggest there will be an increase in reporting which he said means "there are still children out there who still haven't had a chance to have their voices heard" and they need to be given help and assistance.

The decline in the number of social workers is going to be a challenge, he added.

Dr Muldoon said the UN committee on the rights of the child recommended that the Government ensures that Tusla is fully resourced to facilitate the mandatory reporting of abuse.

He said it is his understanding that the minister believes that it will be fully resourced to make this work.

CEO of Barnardos Fergus Finlay said he believes Tusla is ready to deal with the "inevitable" spike in reports of suspected child abuse.

Mr Finlay said the agency is "reasonably well equipped" and has been working flat to prepare for today, when the reporting of suspected child abuse becomes mandatory. 

Mr Finlay said that there is a culture of silence in Ireland that has to be broken.

If this means, he said, short term problems in relation to Tusla's capacity to deal with a spike in reporting, then this must be weathered.

He added that there is a perception that child protection is solely the responsibility of the State, but said that the vast majority of child protection concerns require support in the community and prevention.

Mr Finlay said there has always been the fear that Tusla would be unable to cope with an increase in reports.

However he said if the agency is not ready, "we'll find out pretty quickly".