There may be occasions when we might witness a disturbing exchange between an adult and a child who does not sit comfortably with us.
Despite our worries, we may choose not to get involved, either because we don’t want to become the target of adult anger and be told to mind our own business, or because we fear that our involvement could make things worse for the child. . I guess in a lot of cases where we witness incidents like this, most of us won’t do anything.
Our relationship with any kind of ‘whistleblower’ is poor in Ireland and we have unnecessary associations with getting involved in other people’s affairs. However, it is our civic duty and our moral responsibility to always let someone know if we are concerned that a child may be abused or neglected.
The cost of ignoring these incidents is that the abuse is likely to result in continued harm to the child.
The representative body for child protection issues in Ireland is an organization called Tusla, whose role is to assess all concerns brought to their attention.
Most people don’t know what situations warrant contacting Tusla, but there is a list of situations available that describe “reasonable grounds” for contacting them. You should contact Tusla if you have seen any examples of injury or behavior consistent with abuse, or if you have concerns about possible sexual abuse or if you have witnessed signs of emotional or physical neglect.
You should also report any incident where a child tells you they have been abused or any admission by an adult or another child of alleged abuse they have committed. If you have any of these concerns, you should contact your local social service department.
There are two forms for reporting current and retrospective child protection issues that should be completed and submitted to Tusla to help staff assess your issues. We encourage you to provide as much relevant information as possible about the child, their family situation and your reasons for concern in order to help social workers prioritize the cases to be dealt with.
Tusla is not always able to immediately respond to concerns except when a child is in immediate danger. The time lag needed to assess family well-being issues is a real concern and often times despite the evidence provided, the result of the assessment is that there is not enough evidence and therefore no action can be taken.
This is the inherent problem with reporting concerns about children. Children are limited in terms of what they can articulate and many can be forced into silence, making accurate assessment very difficult. But that doesn’t mean you don’t report it.
If you are concerned about a child but are unsure what to do, you may find it helpful to contact Tusla to discuss your concerns. They can let you know if your concern meets the reporting threshold.
Many people ask if it is possible to register your concerns anonymously, and although this is possible, it creates difficulties for Tusla to assess your concern. This is because Tusla must respect individuals’ rights to due process and be aware of the possibility of malicious misrepresentation.
That said, the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 protects you as a complainant, as long as the report is made in good faith. This means that even if you report an alleged case of child abuse and it turns out to be unfounded, a complainant who has brought an action will have to prove that you did not act reasonably and in good faith in making the report. .
Although Tusla makes every effort to review such cases, this is a very complex area involving the defendant’s constitutional rights to good name, privacy and the right to earn a living, as well as the requirements of natural justice. Tusla must work within the framework of the Constitution, the law and the legal system to balance the competing rights of those involved.
This may limit the amount of feedback Tusla can provide you on the progress or outcome of the case. Tusla’s review can be greatly enhanced if the alleged victim feels able to cooperate with Tusla in their assessment or investigation.
50% (36,784) of all referrals for 2021 were closed after screening. Of referrals closed following screening in 2021, 42% (15,297) were closed with no further action required, an additional 40% (14,760) were closed because safety assessment/planning was already ongoing and 6% (2,287) were redirected to Tusla. Prevention and Family Support Partnership Services (PPFS).
In my clinical experience, I have seen the impact of whistleblowing on both sides. I have met families who have undergone a rigorous assessment procedure following malicious or fabricated reports and I have met children whose lives have been saved thanks to the will of a Garda, a teacher or of a sports coach to act on their concerns.
Personally, I would rather be accused of being too cautious in my reports of alleged abuse than being too complacent. I encourage anyone concerned about the welfare of a child not to assume that someone else will act on it. As is often the case, when everyone thinks everyone is doing something, nothing gets done.
Protecting the safety of children is not a choice, it is a responsibility and therefore, as adults, we must take our role seriously and act accordingly.