‘Through the Eyes of the Child’ – children’s experiences of Tusla services documented

Posted on: 26 April 2023

Trinity College Dublin and Tusla – Child and Family Agency announce the launch of a research report entitled, ‘Through the Eyes of the Child: A Study of Tusla Child Protection and Welfare Intervention’.

The research, which is the first of its kind in Ireland, studies the experiences of children and young people in receipt of Tusla Child Protection and Welfare services and seeks to elicit their views and opinions to understand how services can be further improved to achieve better outcomes for children and families.

The report which was launched by Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, at an event in Trinity College Dublin found that overall many children considered that involvement with Tusla had had a positive impact in their lives. However, fear, stigma and misunderstandings about Tusla’s role, along with concerns about involvement with Tusla becoming ‘public’, can act as a barrier to engagement with services.

Researchers and officials pose for a picture at the launch of the report.

The research study involved detailed interviews with 20 children and young people aged between 10 and 18 years of age about their experience of Tusla interventions. It was undertaken in 2022-23 and commissioned by Tusla.

Lead author of the report, Stephanie Holt, Associate Professor, School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity, commented:

“Many of the children thought Tusla workers had been helpful for them and their families and that Tusla had made a positive impact on their lives. For example, many children talked about improvements in their parents’ relationships, in their own mental health and social support and in sibling behaviour. They also told us about issues and concerns they had about Tusla involvement and were very clear about how professionals could help them overcome their fears and concerns.

“The children talked a lot about the importance of having professionals in their lives who they felt genuinely cared about them, listened to them and respected their views and who they trusted to represent their wishes in decision making. They also told us that trust was hard to build and easy to lose and that the turnover of staff could damage trust building.”

Speaking in advance of the report launch, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O'Gorman said:

“Bringing the voices and views of children and young people into decision making on matters relevant to their lives is essential. Ireland has become a world leader in promoting and enabling such participation over the past two decades. I am particularly delighted to see and impressed with the contribution of children to this research.  This research is grounded in lived experience and amplifies the voices to the children and young people who have had this life experience.”

Cormac Quinlan, Assistant National Director of Practice Reform, Tusla, added:

“As an Agency we have made a commitment to safeguard and promote children’s safety and wellbeing through collaborative support of them, their family, and their wider family network. Hearing from children and young people through this research that their lives and their family’s life has improved, is the most important measure of success we can achieve.

"We can also see how difficult it can be for children and parents when they meet someone from our child protection and welfare service. Often our intervention typically comes at time of huge vulnerability and worry for the family, and the shame sometimes felt by them in having to talk about these worries and allow others to come into their lives to support them. Being continuously sensitive and understanding to this is an integral part of our practice and something we must continuously support and strengthen in ensuring Tusla is always seen and experienced as a service that is here to support, empower and strengthen families when they need us most.”

Key findings:

  • Overall, many of the children considered that involvement with Tusla had had a positive impact in their lives.
  • Children disclosed that fear, stigma and misunderstandings about Tusla’s role can act as barriers to their engagement with services.
  • First contact with Tusla was recalled as a time of fear and uncertainty. The children described being us worried about what might happen in their family once Tusla was involved.
  • Children reported a lot of stress around the risk of losing face among peers should their Tusla involvement become ‘public’, particularly in the school setting. These worries and fears could make it harder for them to understand what was going on.
  • The children reported that meaningful conversations with trusted professionals who provide opportunities for them to have a say in what was going on is the best way to facilitate child participation ­– being listened to was more important than getting what they wanted.
  • The children were also very clear that trust was both hard to build and easy to lose. Trust is easily undermined by any turnover of staff.
  • Open and honest communication paired with child-friendly communication tools (e.g. Signs of Safety tools) were identified by children as the best way to build trust overcome barriers to engagement
  • Children’s responses demonstrate the need for more joined-up thinking between child protection services and the wider child protection and welfare ecosystem in the child’s life

Media Contact:

Fiona Tyrrell | Media Relations | tyrrellf@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 3551