Tusla apologizes to mother and son for ‘obvious mistakes’ in filing

Tusla apologized to a mother and teenage son for ‘obvious errors’ in their case, including a claim the boy was visited by social workers during his out-of-jurisdiction placement, while he was not.

The boy, who was autistic and aged 15 at the time, was in a placement arranged by Tusla with his extended family in Northern Ireland from July 2018. Known as a ‘private family care arrangement’, he n was not court ordered and the boy had no social worker or therapeutic support.

He was visited once in Belfast by Tusla social workers, in August 2018.

However, records released to the mother under freedom of information legislation include an email from the Tusla Regional Manager to the agency’s Director of Operations, Jim Gibbons, dated October 31, 2019.

It says: “Case closed to social work in January 2019 but opened to PPFS [prevention, partnership and family support]. PPFS then visited [the boy] in Belfast who expressed his wish to stay.

Tusla has since conceded, in an email to the mother dated November 2, 2021, that “no visitation has taken place in Belfast by PPFS staff”.

The email to Mr Gibbons also states a ‘supportive reference made to Nth Irl social services’.

The man told the Irish Times he had no contact or support from social services in Northern Ireland. Now 19, he says he felt “discarded, unwanted and abandoned” during his 15 months there.

He had been taken to Belfast after an incident at the family home led to him being evicted by the gardaí, held in a Garda station and placed in emergency foster care overnight.

He says Tusla told him that his mother didn’t want him to come home. His mother told the Irish Times that she had been told he did not want to come back to her.

Other errors in the records include a false claim that the mother had an alcohol problem when she was not drinking.

“Legality” of placement

She has ‘serious continuing concerns’ about the legality of her son’s placement in Belfast. Although there is no suggestion that the foster family harmed him, their suitability has not been assessed. The mother was advised not to contact her son. Her letters were opened and read to her by the host family on Tusla’s instructions, she said, she was told.

Her son left Belfast voluntarily in mid-October 2019, returning by bus to his hometown.

The family had been involved with Tusla since 2016 after the boy was removed from a private school which accused him of sexual assault, but did not refer the allegation to Tusla. The boy denied the allegation and the mother complained to Tusla.

He was out of school for nine months because “no school wanted me,” he says.

“I felt lonely, depressed, not knowing what to do with myself. I fell into addiction. Eventually I went to [another school] but by the time I got there, I had lost interest in everything, all my hobbies.

He felt “judged, unwanted and alone,” he says.

The placement in Belfast, he says, exacerbated his distress. “They put me in an environment where I was totally uncomfortable. They should have made sure it was a suitable environment. They pitted me against my own mother. I received no counselling, no social worker. Nothing. Just dropped up there.

“Anger was the main feeling I had. I’m still angry. I would say my mental health wasn’t good in Belfast, but Belfast did it 10 times worse. My head was all over the place.”

‘Bad memories’

After returning from Belfast, he became involved with Youthreach, obtained his Junior Certificate and now lives in homeless accommodation in Dublin. He says he can’t live in his hometown because there are “too many bad memories”. His relationship with his mother improves.

Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín, who defended the family, said the case was “very disturbing”.

“This raises many questions about the accuracy of Tusla’s files. The issue deserves full debate in the Dáil,” said Mr Tobin, who is not the family’s constituency TD.

In a statement, Tusla said it would be “not appropriate for Tusla to comment on individual aspects of this matter in a public space.”

“Tusla acknowledged that there were shortcomings in certain aspects of the service provided and manifest errors in certain aspects of the records. A thorough review was conducted and the Tusla General Manager and Regional Services Manager spoke with the family who raised these concerns and apologized for the errors and the resulting upset.

“A number of steps have since been taken to support those affected by these errors, and a number of steps have also been taken to prevent such errors from happening in the future as much as possible.”

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