As of January 2017, it became mandatory for anyone who suspected that a child is being abused, or is at risk of abuse, has a duty to report their suspicions to Tusla.
Under the Children First Act 2015, mandated persons are people who have ongoing contact with children and families and who because of their qualifications, training and experience are in a key position to protect children from harm.
This means that among their responsibilities they must report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to Tusla. Where social workers suspect a child has been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, or wilful neglect, they are required to refer the case to the Garda.
This new legislation brought a mixed response at the time. Charities and child protection agencies welcomed it generally, but some questioned the resources of the state to deal with the higher volume predicted to result from this change.
Documents released under Freedom of Information legislation showed that Tusla had raised concerns with the Department of Children. The agency feared that the introduction of mandatory reporting would place severe pressure on its child protection services and reverse the progress it has made in dealing with social work.
Now, nearly three years later the volume of reports has been shown to have increased significantly, up to 75%. Tusla received 3,042 reports of alleged sexual abuse in 2016, which rose to 3,548 in 2018, and to 3,909 last year. It referred 532 cases of suspected sexual abuse to the Gardai in 2017, which increased to 741 in 2018, and to 912 in 2019.
This gave rise to questions regarding the more severe percentage increase in the numbers Tusla reported to the Gardai compared to the increase reported to them. Tusla responded to these queries stating, “The introduction of mandatory reporting, and the strong emphasis before that on the need to report child protection concerns, has led to an increasingly strong culture of reporting, which contributes in part to increasing numbers of reports to An Garda Síochána.”
It is also a concern that the Covid 19 pandemic will increase the number of future referrals due to extra stress levels in households. This is already being seen in the context of domestic abuse where reported numbers in Ireland and Worldwide are substantially up in 2020, on previous years.
NB – This is a guide for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have an issue requiring legal advice, please contact any of the team at Nolan Farrell & Goff, whose numbers can be found on our website, www.nfg.ie