No social worker for thousands of child protection cases

Hiqa report also reveals delays in notifying child abuse allegations to gardaí

Almost a thousand high priority cases involving potentially at risk children were not assigned a social worker by the end of 2015, a new report has revealed.

In its annual overview of children’s services in 2015, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) identified “significant variations in services” between different regions of the country.

The children’s team within Hiqa received 72 notifications relating to allegations of suspected abuse at care centres for children throughout the whole of last year, and a further 103 notifications from service providers over potential risks to health, wellbeing and safety.

The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) had 26,655 cases open as of the end of 2015 and 6,718 cases remained unallocated, including 999 high priority cases.

Data compiled by Hiqa shows inconsistencies in how waiting lists were administered, with some regions performing “substantially better than others” in this area.

The report makes particular reference to the Louth Meath service which met just one of 27 standards during an inspection from Hiqa last year, and there was a judgement of significant risk to children for eight of these standards.

The Dublin North and Dublin South East/Wicklow areas both met eight out of 27 standards, and in all Hiqa required a combined total of 62 actions to be taken by the three aforementioned services to address the concerns raised.

This included 24 actions under the theme of safe and effective services, which concerns issues such as delayed notifications of child abuse allegations to gardaí and delayed allocation of social workers.

Despite the adverse findings, Hiqa did note that management of high priority child protection cases had improved compared with 2014.

"What is clear from inspection and monitoring activity is the variance of practice by different providers in relation to the quality of service delivered," said Hiqa's head of children's programme Ann Ryan.

Hiqa completed inspections of 80 per cent of child protection services last year, as well as visits to foster care services, centres for children with a disability and the Oberstown detention campus in north Dublin.