Hiqa finds five ‘major non-compliances’ in child protection in south-east

Children placed at potential risk and systems to notify gardaí of abuse allegations not robust, watchdog finds

 

Five “major non-compliances’’ with national standards have been found in child protection and welfare services in the south-east in a Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) investigation.

Its report, published on Monday, found just one of the six standards operated by the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, to be “substantially compliant’’ in the Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary area.

It found children were placed at potential risk, and systems put in place to notify gardaí of abuse allegations were not robust.

The report revealed there were 213 cases on a waiting list of children and families for an initial assessment.

“However, there was no formal system in place to review the waiting list and no plan to address the backlog,’’ it added.

“Waiting lists were not effectively managed and this resulted in children potentially being left at risk.’’

The quality of screening of referrals was poor, and background checks were not always undertaken as part of the screening process.

Frameworks to determine thresholds of harm and levels of risk were not consistently applied during screening.

“Some referrals that required immediate intervention, such as physical abuse allegations, did not have timely intervention, and children for whom there had been multiple referrals over time did not receive a consistent response,’’ the report added.

The Hiqa inspections, which were carried out in October and November of last year, followed findings related to foster care in the area, unsolicited information received, and concerns arising from an inspection of a residential centre.

Responding to the Hiqa report, Tusla said it had highlighted areas for improvement which it was actively working to implement, as a priority.

A comprehensive implementation plan had been submitted to Hiqa, it added.

Tusla’s chief operations officer Patricia Finlay said the agency recognised the need to strengthen its screening processes, which was why it had developed its protection and welfare strategy.

“A comprehensive implementation plan is now underway to embed the strategy within the agency over the next three to five years,’’ she added.

The Hiqa report said the quality of initial assessments by Tusla varied from good to very poor.

“Where assessments were of good quality, children’s needs and circumstances were comprehensively assessed,’’ it added.

“Where assessments were poor, children’s needs were not adequately assessed and risks were not satisfactorily addressed.’’

Due to staff shortages, one office in the area stopped conducting initial assessments on medium and low priority cases for a period of two to three months in 2017.

“In addition, the systems in place for notifying An Garda Síochána of allegations of abuse were not robust,’’ the report added.

The report said the oversight of child protection and welfare cases in the area was poor, with 27 of the 133 cases reviewed referred to the area management for assurance that appropriate action had been taken to address outstanding risks.

Some cases had been closed when an initial assessment should have been carried out, it added.

Overall, Hiqa found “systematic deficits across a number of areas in the duty, intake and assessment team’’, with governance and oversight ineffective in delivering the service.

This, said the report, was evident in the ineffective oversight and the lack of a plan to address the backlog, poor recording of individual supervision and failure to take effective action to address deficits found in audits undertaken by Tusla in 2016.

The report noted there were risks with the information system in the area and the management team was unable to tell inspectors how many children’s cases were closed to the service.