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Tusla files flagged by judge deleted by Department
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15 Sep 2023 / child law Print

Tusla files flagged by judge deleted by Department

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed that his department has deleted three out of four reports pertaining to children taken into care by Tusla, which were sent to him by retired Judge Dermot Simms.

The retired District Court judge had stated his “utmost concern for the immediate predicament and welfare of children who are in care”, when he wrote to a number of ministers and State institutions.

The letters were sent in May to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, when Judge Simms was still on the bench.

‘Statutory responsibilities’

Confirming that the files have been deleted, the department said: “Following consideration of the department’s statutory responsibilities in relation to data protection, the department formed the view that it did not have a legal basis to process the personal data contained in three of those four reports, and those reports were subsequently deleted from the department’s records.

“The department must discharge its statutory responsibilities under data-protection legislation in relation to the processing of personal information. While the department could not process three of the reports which were attached to the judge’s correspondence, the substantive issues to which the reports related were set out in the correspondence itself.”

TD sought access to reports

Peadar Tóibín TD sought access to the reports through a parliamentary question.

He said: “The Minister for Children’s actions are impossible to comprehend.

“The Minister is directly responsible to ensure the safety of children in State care. A retiring judge stuck his neck out to bring very serious matters to the attention of the Minister for Children. Judge Simms wrote to the minister in May expressing his alarm over the welfare of children in the care of the State.”

Judge Simms’s letter referred to: “Child A, age nine, in the care of the CFA … with his parents’ approval and permission and the consent of the CFA” and included a report produced by the child’s guardian ad litem outlining the child’s circumstances.

The judge also included a report relating to another child for whom finding a placement was proving difficult – the report also made mention to ‘Special Emergency Accommodation’ (SEA) which are unapproved and unregulated placements.

‘Very concerned’

Deputy Tóibín continued: “I have had much contact with social workers on the ground who are very concerned about SEAs, in particular in relation to the astronomical amount of funding devoted to them, the lack of vetting procedures and qualifications of staff, and the level of care to children in emergency accommodation.

“Following these concerns, I asked the minister if he would furnish me with copies of the reports.

“This week, he replied saying that, on foot of GDPR concerns, three out of the four reports have been deleted upon receipt by his department."

‘Crazy stuff’

“This is crazy stuff – the idea that rather than acting on the very serious allegations and disclosures made by Judge Simms and the reports attached, the minister instead opted to delete the correspondence.

“This is clearly a GDPR overreach. The minister, I fear, is using GDPR as cover for a lack of action and the scandalous use of SEAs.

“The ‘in camera rule’ is also preventing us from getting to the crux of these issues. I’ve had people come to me who want to talk about what happened in court, but I have to caution them that it would be against the law to talk to me.

“They’ve told me they tried to talk to the gardaí, but the in camera rule has prevented them from even doing that.

Anonymised data

“Now the minister, it seems, is deleting correspondence from a retired judge, even though the children are anonymised in the reports, citing GDPR,” Deputy Tóibín said.

“Our care system is at breaking point – and Aontú believes we need better funding for voluntary-care providers, much stronger regulation of Special Emergency Accommodation, better pay for foster families, more foster families, and more social workers.

“The people working at the coal face of social care in this country – particularly private voluntary-care providers – are becoming increasingly frustrated, especially in light of the seemingly poor standards of the SEAs and the savage funding those entities are receiving from the State,” concluded Tóibín.

Solicitor highlights crisis

Long-standing child-welfare solicitor and advocate Pól Ó Murchú wrote to the minister last month about the crisis in the State child-welfare system.

The solicitor pointed to:

  • A chronic lack of social workers due to burnout and stress,
  • Sexual predators having access to vulnerable children,
  • Lack of foster placements,
  • Tusla’s dependence on private for-profit services, and dissatisfaction of foster carers with their remuneration,
  • Lack of suitable residential placements across the board,
  • Chronic lack of special-care places,
  • Increased numbers of children seeking international protection,
  • Serious concern about accommodation for vulnerable, homeless children, with nobody caring for them or responsible for their welfare,
  • Inappropriate settings, such as hotels, gastropubs (in several cases), and B&Bs, and
  • Lengthy waiting lists for CAMHS intervention and chronic shortage of professionals.
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