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Child Protection in Ireland Post McCabe

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Sgt. Maurice McCabe

The controversy surrounding the treatment of Sgt. Maurice McCabe by various State agencies has raised significant issues regarding the operation of our child protection system in Ireland. Issues that perhaps have needed attention for some time and that will now hopefully receive due attention. Before we try to disentangle the fallout from this controversy, let’s briefly remind ourselves of how the McCabe case unfolded.

It was revealed the child sexual abuse allegations made against Sgt. McCabe, referred to TUSLA (Irish State Child and Family Agency) in August 2013 by a counselor employed by the Health Service Exectuive‘s (HSE) National Counselling Service (NCS), were false. The HSE is Ireland’s national health service provider.

The following year in 2014, a TUSLA social worker opened files on all four of the McCabe children which also included their then adult children. It has yet to be determined why files were opened on adult children as this is not standard procedure within TUSLA practice or child protection practices. Additionally, it is also yet to be determined what was the reason for the time delay from the initial referral?

It also emerged that the referral to TUSLA originated from the same individual connected with previous 2006 allegation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” against Sgt. McCabe. However, after an investigation by the Office of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions),  the investigation determined there were no grounds to proceed with prosecution against Sgt. McCabe.

Nine months after the NCS referral to TUSLA, the NCS contacted TUSLA to advise them that the referral had included an error. They stated:

 “the line ‘that this abuse involved digital penetration, both vaginal and anal’ is an error and should not be in the referral. It is in fact a line from another referral on another adult that has been pasted in error”

An error that will surely gain significant attention under the Charleton inquiry which is investigating the alleged smear campaign against McCabe who was a whistleblower.

In 2016, approximately two years and four months after receiving the initial referral, a TUSLA social worker contacted Sgt. Maurice McCabe to advise that he was the subject of an allegation of child sexual abuse. Sgt. McCabe’s issued a statement through his attorney refuting the allegations and referred to the previous decision not to prosecute him. This was the first contact TUSLA made with Sgt. McCabe regarding the referrals they had received relating to him. The following June 2016, Social Workers informed Sgt. McCabe that there had been an error and that no such allegation was made against him. Again, another error that will surely receive significant attention.

The following June, in 2016, Social Workers informed Sgt. McCabe there had been an error and that no such allegation was made against him. Again, an error that will receive significant attention in McCabe’s defamation investigation.

So what’s the child protection context of all this?

In the ordinary course of things, the allegation of sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour in childhood made to the NCS by the then adult individual constitutes what TUSLA terms a ‘Retrospective Disclosure’. This is a disclosure by an adult of abuse they experienced as a child. These types of referrals make up approximately 10% of TUSLA’s child protection caseload and have been the source of some controversy in recent years.

The independent Health and Quality Authority (HIQA) is tasked with assessing the efficacy and function of Tusla child protection and welfare services nationally. They carry out both announced and unannounced inspections of child protection and welfare services and in recent years have begun to pay attention to Tusla’s management and assessment of retrospective disclosures.

In recent reports, HIQA has deemed Tusla’s handling of such referrals as inadequate and posing potential risk to children. They have reported in respect of some services:

“…a large number of retrospective abuse referrals had not yet been assessed which meant that the potential risk to children was not fully known”; “inspectors found there were significant delays in the service assessing risks in relation to retrospective abuse and there were immediate and high risks that were not dealt with in a timely manner”.

An adult disclosure of abuse may relate to an incident that occurred decades ago. For example, a sixty year old man coming forward to disclose abuse he suffered when he was eight or nine. It may also, however, relate to abuse disclosed by a 19 year old in which the incident occurred when they were 17.

These disclosures, therefore like all referrals to child protection services, may or may not contain details of an alleged abuser, details of an identified child or children at risk or specific locations or dates of where and when the abuse took place. It may be argued that some of the more ‘historic’ of these referrals may contain no identifying information at all with no way for social workers to ascertain the level of risk to children. But what is crucial here is the above HIQA report which states, “referrals had not yet been assessed which meant that the potential risk to children was not fully known”. 

As recently as February 2016, two months after their initial contact with Sgt. McCabe, TUSLA Child Protection services in Cavan were assessed by a team of HIQA investigators. The inspection was announced in other words the social work department knew the inspection would be taking place. HIQA reported, “there were waiting lists for assessments and for retrospective allegations of abuse and the system in place to manage the assessment wait lists was not robust”.

HIQA stated at this time that TUSLA team leaders kept a list of all adult referrals and that these cases had been audited and categorised with on-going liaison with the Irish State Police Service (Gardaí). This would appear to be good practice in the face of the growing number of referrals to TUSLA, albeit the cases are remaining on a waitlist for full assessment were required.

Despite this, reports concerning the handling of the allegations against Sgt. McCabe highlight a two-and-a-half-year delay in Social Work action on the matter. HIQA are not the only ones who have highlighted concern in respect of Tusla’s handling of retrospective cases.

As early as May 2015, then Senator, Jillian van Turnhout raised the matter with, then CEO of Tusla, Gordon Jeyes following the Laois/Offaly controversy; and as recently as July 2016 Fíanna Fáil frontbench spokesperson for Children, Anne Rabbitte TD, raised the matter in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) with Minister Zappone herself.

During this latter exchange, Minister Zappone acknowledged the failings in Tusla’s assessment of retrospective disclosures. She went on to acknowledge that frontline social workers are in a position where they are working from a draft guidance document and advised that she would seek clarification on the entire matter from Tusla, stating “I have asked to meet senior officials in Tusla next week to be updated on the steps they are taking to deal nationally with these cases, and on cases currently before the courts which may impact on Tusla’s practice in these matters”.

The Minister went onto state “I want Deputy Rabbitte to know that I do have concerns in relation to dealing with adult disclosure cases or retrospective cases. I would like to see timelines on when they have been allocated”. It would appear that the outcome of Minister Zappone’s meeting with Tusla following this exchange is relevant in respect of what is unfolding currently.

The bottom line is that retrospective disclosure of childhood abuses are not being prioritised or resourced. HIQA have noted long waiting lists in respect of these referrals to TUSLA and despite draft guidelines and a number of specific Tusla teams being set up to assess these cases the problems remain. What is occurring is a system failure within Tusla or maybe a failure due to a lack of a system being in place in the first place.

Frontline practitioners are not receiving adequate training and clarification in respect of how to handle retrospective allegations of abuse.

Competing Rights and Confusion

One of the key issues in this allegation or referral of abuse, which occurred in childhood, casts two sets of competing legal rights into play. The adult referrer’s right to justice and to have his/her referral investigated and the right of the alleged abuser to privacy, good name, and the presumption of innocence.

It is these competing rights which have caused the most confusion within the child protection system which is also the central cause of what can only be termed ‘paralysis’ in relation to the investigation of adult disclosures of childhood abuse. If an alleged abuser or victim refuses to engage with social work, does the duty to protect children cease? Justice Barr was quite clear that social workers have a duty to assess any potential future harm to identified or unidentified children. And to do this “before the risk crystallises into actual harm” as Justice Hedigan added in a later case.

It would appear that Tusla’s fear of suit in these matters, or maybe just sheer confusion, has led to these referrals being moved down the caseload list and in some cases not receiving an assessment at all. This can have detrimental effects on alleged perpetrators who, if falsely accused, want to clear their name. It also has effects upon victims who have taken a monumental step in disclosing the abuse they have suffered. Finally, it also affects the social workers who are tasked with assessing these cases. Competing rights to justice and good name hanging in the balance while these matters sit in social work offices.

The McCabe case deals with a false allegation against an individual. However, the central fear is the non-assessment of a referral for a child potential being abused by an individual who has been identified yet has failed to be assessed in a timely manner.

There are no winners in the McCabe case. While the political fallout is yet to be determined, we must remember, in this specific case, a man and his family have been put through hell at the hands of our most trusted of State institutions. Meanwhile, the reputation of confidentiality and professionalism of our child protection services and of our State-run counselling service hangs in tatters.

It is critical that steps are taken to rectify these issues, to support and guide front-line staff and ultimately to provide an efficient and sensitive service to those wishing to disclose abuse, those who may be falsely accused and all and any children who may be at actual or potential risk in our communities.

Joseph Mooney is an Irish social worker finalising his PhD. and his research interests include Adult Disclosures of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

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Child Welfare

How to Support Foster Children

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When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.

However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.

So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.

Listen

Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.

You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.

Celebrate

Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.

And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.

Playdates

Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.

Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…

This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,

Getaway

Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.

It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.

Help with School

On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.

Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.

Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.

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Global

A Student Perspective: Social Work and First Responders

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It may be rare for a social work student to reflect on an assignment as something inspirational rather than a stressful experience with a deadline, but at the end of  3rd year of my social work degree, one assignment was a challenge filled with hope. The assignment allowed me to contribute to a program that will give insight to other helping professionals about the mental health of first responders: police, firefighters, paramedics and others who respond to emergencies on the frontline.

The University of Newcastle has a particularly effective way of integrating workplace experience based learning with academic learning throughout the degree. The program options offered in third year which allow students to develop a program for a real agency was the most useful for me. To know your work might form a foundation for a real program in the community was a great honour and challenge to work on.

In the beginning, I was unsure of what to expect from the program development project. I was apprehensive about working with a professional capacity with a real agency, but I was excited also to learn more and try something new. There were diverse programs offered- from gardening programs to developing group projects designed for children and developing a program for professionals working with first responders.

The university gave us a chance to preference our interests and I was fortunate enough, with some other amazing women to be selected for the first responders team. The aim of our project was to put together a draft training package for helping professionals to enhance understanding of first responder mental health.

This topic drew my interest as it was beyond my scope of knowledge and I have a keen interest in mental health, so it was intriguing to me on both a personal and professional level. On starting, I very quickly became aware that I had actually put very little thought into the work first responders do in our communities to keep us all safer.

I learned just how complex the actual work of first responders can be, I learned the challenges that first responders face as a consequence of their work, the most traumatic of which is often invisible to the communities that they protect. I learned how repetitive exposure to trauma can complicate all aspects of first responder’s lives if they don’t or can’t seek or obtain support. I learned how much awareness is lacking within the multiple levels of the community, which is needed to enact change for first responders and their families.

Also, I learned the difficulties that can be faced by first responders and their families when attempting to access help. Whilst organisational supports are in place for some of the services, the stigma, shame and potential for the loss of their profession is very real. I heard stories about those medically discharged dealing with the grief and loss of their profession and identity.

My part in the group was to examine the supports already in place for first responders. I was concerned at the limited avenues for assistance and the extent of the difficulties for first responders to seek help. Besides limited services, stigma and organisational culture are barriers to effective help seeking. I found attempting to identify potential services to be frustrating, especially when looking for options within communities rather than those which are employer organisation based. My mind quickly went to how this frustration might feel for someone who was attempting the same whilst being unwell.

Gaining insight and recognition into the role first responders play, the impacts on their mental health, their relationships and all aspects of their lives and the flow on effect to their wider social ecology,  I  realised just how large the scale of first responder post-traumatic stress and other mental health consequences have on our community overall.

The hardest part of this learning experience was seeing the end of the project. The topic is so significant, it is hard to not to explore the topic further.  To me, this feels like a core social work and social justice issue, yet one which is invisible much of the time. My learning from this project has given me a totally new perspective. I have a renewed respect and a much deeper understanding of the issues faced by police, firefighters, paramedics and all others who work on the frontline in emergencies.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the knowledge it takes to work with first responders and enact positive change in their lives. I hope more research is completed and potentially more opportunities for training and professional development come up for social workers, whether it be integrated into core teaching within university programs or externally in workplaces.

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Education

Need to Learn a New Language: Modern Technologies That Will Help Beginners

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The first time people thought of using computers. Previously called Computer-Assisted Language Instruction and the Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), the general concept has its humble roots in the 1960s. With the invention of the microcomputer, the CALL technologies moved away from the mainframes of major universities and into the wider population. Today, when most people have a supercomputer, they are proliferated to include everything from a gamma to a virtual reality.

With the list of ever expanding options, here are some of the most popular technologies that can help all language learners:

Video calls help connect the world

There is no way to underestimate the effect of Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Before these technologies became widespread, meeting and having a face-to-face conversation with somebody from another country. Now, you can find a conversation in your target language in the blink of an eye and having online lessons has never been easier. There are all platforms dedicated to finding and setting up your first online language exchange or lesson. All of this makes the language in your living room easy and comfortable.

A recent development that language learners might want to use with video calls is the Skype Translator. Especially for beginners, it can help (almost) real-time video calls. While it might be considered cheating, it can also prove to be a great tool for you.

Gamification makes learning fun

A surprising benefit of being always connected to the internet. When “language learning” is used to mean cramming vocabulary and grammar, these apps have very successfully gamified learning, making it more addictive than ever. These certainly help Although the most beginners, they’re also a great way of squeezing in some language practice in between lessons and keeping your brain active and focused on your target language.

The ruling king of language learning apps right now must be Duolingo, but you can also give busuu a try. Memrise is a great way to learn new vocabulary, especially if you prefer a lot of repetition. The newcomer Lingvist promises to teach you a language in 200 hours, although their selection of languages is currently quite limited.

New types of translators

Naturally, you do not need to be a language learner to use translators. Indeed, most of the time, text translators are used by people. But you can also use translators to assist you with learning. Picking up new vocabulary is the easiest when you have a handy device that can translate new words quickly and conveniently.

Starting with the (almost) real-time Skype translator, tech companies have been pouring money into new types of translation services, including text and visual translation. There’s the much-used and known Google Translate which is useful even without its more exciting add-ons. Once you download their app, once you download their app, once you get their Google app, you can use Google’s visual translations – just take a picture of whatever (road sign, menu item, sentence, etc.) English. Other companies are taking these technologies even farther, providing almost instant speech-to-speech and speech-to-text translations.

While, in the long term, these technologies can instantly be translated, for, they can surely help.

Artificial Intelligence – the way of the future

Artificial Intelligence has had another hot topic these past few years. From being hailed as the salvation from everyday labor to us. For us, AI can also be herald as a new era in Computer-Assisted Language Learning. Although, so far, the machines still find a human language rather confusing, so much so that they’ve even led to their own bot-talk to communicate. Be that as it may, the implications are still groundbreaking.

For example, the European Union is currently funneling money to get AI robots teaching preschool children a second language. On a less ambitious scale, AI can be used to also take language learning apps to the next level. Imagine programs that take into account your personal learning style and adapt appropriately, teaching you-specific vocabulary. Although this technology might still be a bit further down the road, Duolingo has already started engaging its users with AI-powered chatbots, a sign of things to come.

Virtual reality will transform immersion

It’s generally agreed that total immersion is an effective way to learn a language. The idea is simple. So far, the only way to really immerse yourself, however, is to travel to the country. Thanks to virtual reality, this is now changing.

There are already apps that make use of virtual reality to create a quick back-and-forth, much like an actual conversation with a native and definitely a step above Duolingo’s chatbots. The future regards virtual reality and language learning. ImmerseMe is a language start-up that is planning on creating authentic virtual realities to help you immerse in your target language. Since culture and travel are such good motivators for learning a foreign language, it’s easy to see why people are getting excited.

Conclusion – technology can make language learning more exciting and enjoyable

Already, several scientific studies have been provided with evidence on how to assist in acquiring a second language. While some of the technologies mentioned above are still just getting started, video calling and visual translators have already made language learners. Only time will tell how much simpler acquiring a second language can become.

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