We must change sys­tem that makes abuse vic­tims re­live hor­rors – Zap­pone

Irish Independent - - News - Kevin Doyle Group Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

THE way child abuse vic­tims are treated by our le­gal sys­tem needs to be re-ex­am­ined, Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter Kather­ine Zap­pone has said.

In to­day’s Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent the min­is­ter writes that young vic­tims of sex crimes are be­ing forced to retell and re­live their trauma “over and over again” in a way that could cause fur­ther harm.

And while she does not specif­i­cally men­tion the case of pae­dophile Tom Humphries, Ms Zap­pone says: “In re­cent days the re­sponse of our le­gal, care and sup­port sys­tems to the needs of chil­dren and young peo­ple who have been abused has been in the spot­light.

“Ques­tions are be­ing asked about whether we have lost our child fo­cus and that our pro­cesses are them­selves re-vic­tim­is­ing young peo­ple and pro­long­ing the trauma.”

Her com­ments come amid sig­nif­i­cant con­tro­versy over the two-and-a-half year sen­tence handed down to for­mer ‘Ir­ish Times’ jour­nal­ist Humphries, who ex­changed over 16,000 text mes­sages with his teenage vic­tim dur­ing a four-month pe­riod.

The Dublin Rape Cri­sis Cen­tre crit­i­cised the le­niency of the sen­tence, with its CEO Noe­line Black­well sug­gest­ing too much em­pha­sis was put on Humphries’s place in so­ci­ety and “not the level of harm that this man pur­posely did many, many times to a young girl”.

The min­is­ter is cur­rently in New York with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the child and fam­ily agency Tusla and An Garda Síochána for a se­ries of meet­ings with the New York Po­lice Depart­ment’s Spe­cial Vic­tims Unit (SVU).

The SVU, which was made fa­mous by the TV se­ries ‘Law and Or­der’, op­er­ates one of the most ad­vance child pro­tec­tion ser­vices in the world. Its work was sin­gled out in a re­cent re­port by child pro­tec­tion rap­por­teur Ge­of­frey Shannon, who is ac­com­pa­ny­ing the min­is­ter on this week’s visit.

The SVU runs spe­cialised child ad­vo­cacy cen­tres which bring to­gether un­der one roof wel­fare ser­vices, health sup­port­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers and pros­e­cu­tors who deal with child abuse and sex crimes.

“By work­ing to­gether in the one cen­tre – those who pro­tect chil­dren and those who are de­ter­mined to bring abusers to jus­tice can en­sure that a child is clear of the nec­es­sary work to as­sist an in­ves­ti­ga­tion within 24 hours,” Ms Zap­pone said.

On the back of her dis­cus­sions, the min­is­ter has iden­ti­fied a num­ber of ac­tions which she be­lieves must be “fast­tracked” in Ire­land.

“There will be greater co-op­er­a­tion be­tween Tusla and gar­daí,” she said, adding: “I have seen and heard enough to con­vince me this must hap­pen.

“Our first step must be to ad­dress short-falls in our outof-hours ser­vices. We need a sin­gle 24-hour so­cial worker ser­vice which can work with gar­daí in re­spond­ing to emer­gency cases.”

Tusla will also be told to have two on-call so­cial work­ers at each of its 17 re­gions.

The agency has a bud­get of €750m, a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of which will be used to up­grade its IT sys­tems.

“It is no longer ac­cept­able that much of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween our agen­cies is still on pa­per – this is a prac­tice of a dif­fer­ent era and will be ended,” Ms Zap­pone said.

In an ar­ti­cle for to­day’s Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent the min­is­ter also says Ire­land has “reached a key mo­ment in child pro­tec­tion”.

On De­cem­ber 11 manda­tory re­port­ing of abuse will be in­tro­duced for the first time.

This means all in­di­vid­u­als and groups deal­ing with chil­dren will be obliged to re­port child pro­tec­tion con­cerns to Tusla.

The agency pre­vi­ously ex­pressed con­cerns about its abil­ity to deal with the likely in­crease in its work­load but re­ceived an ex­tra €40m in the Bud­get.

Ques­tions are be­ing asked about whether we have lost our child fo­cus

Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter Kather­ine Zap­pone with Cor­mac Quin­lan of the child and fam­ily agency Tusla in New York for an Ir­ish fact-find­ing mis­sion on child pro­tec­tion agen­cies

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