Children at risk due to resource shortcomings, report finds

‘High thresholds of harm’ had to be reached in some instances before cases were assessed

Although available resources were well managed and deployed, the report found that deficiencies in staffing levels created an “unsustainable situation” and “did not allow for the delivery of a consistently safe and effective service”.

Although available resources were well managed and deployed, the report found that deficiencies in staffing levels created an “unsustainable situation” and “did not allow for the delivery of a consistently safe and effective service”.

Fri, Nov 15, 2013, 11:56

A report into child protection services in the Kildare and West Wicklow area has found that delays in assessing individual cases and staff shortages in the region presented a significant risk to the safety of children.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) report, conducted in May 2013, found that child protection services were only able to provide a limited service in the local health area and “high thresholds of harm” had to be reached in some instances before welfare cases were assessed.

Although available resources were well managed and deployed, the report found that deficiencies in staffing levels created an “unsustainable situation” and “did not allow for the delivery of a consistently safe and effective service”.

Information provided by the HSE at the time of the inspection showed 1,676 reports of concerns about children had been made to the social work service in the area in the previous 12 months.

The information showed that there were nine serious incidents, including one death, in the region in the two-year period prior to inspection.

Services provided by the social work department included child protection and welfare, fostering and family support. Forty children were subject to child protection plans and 123 to family support plans.

The service was only functioning at a staffing level of 77 per cent at the time of inspection and this was expected to fall even further to 70 per cent by August 2013 due to extended staff leave. The recommended HSE national figure for staffing is 80 per cent.

The report found that managers prioritised high risk cases which led to increased thresholds for welfare referrals. Inspectors were aware of one case where the potential for organisational abuse was not identified as such at point of referral to the LHA (local health area).

While sensitive cases were usually allocated to a senior staff member, the report states that inspectors “did not find evidence” that the LHA worked with parents and the public to raise awareness of organisation and or institutional abuse.”

Resources were not sufficient to deal with backlogs and inspectors found 721 referrals awaiting an initial assessment and 77 awaiting further assessment. The report says these cases presented a “significant risk” to the safety of the child protection and welfare service.

The report found that deficiencies in staff resources undermined the service’s ability to meet the needs of and manage risks to all children.

While the management team had taken a number of initiatives to address waiting lists, it faced significant challenges in terms of unassessed cases, use of resources and deficits in infrastructural systems for gathering and analysing information.

It was not possible for managers to monitor the effectiveness of their service or to be assured that social work interventions improved children’s lives. These risks had been escalated by managers to the National Office, the report found.