At-risk children faced years of delays before being put on Tusla register

Confidential study also finds Traveller and black children overrepresented on system

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, lists children who are deemed to be at risk of significant harm in their homes on its child-protection notification system. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, lists children who are deemed to be at risk of significant harm in their homes on its child-protection notification system. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A confidential study on the State’s system for monitoring at-risk children found gaps of several years between Tusla receiving reports of welfare concerns and children being placed on the agency’s child-protection register.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, lists children who are deemed to be at risk of significant harm in their homes on its child-protection notification system.

The internal study found Traveller, black, and disabled children were all significantly over-represented on the register.

Research found on average children were referred to Tusla five times over concerns before their case was placed on the system.

Internal briefings on the study, seen by The Irish Times, show it questioned whether Tusla staffing levels or administrative processes were leading to delays.

The work was commissioned by the Department of Children, and conducted by Dr Helen Buckley, who chairs the National Review Panel into deaths of children known to Tusla, and another academic.

The study found average gaps of 11 months between a child’s most recent welfare referral to Tusla and their placement on the child-protection system.

Causing delays

Completed last year, the research recommended officials consider if “resource issues at local level, or internal management/administrative processes” were causing delays.

Children are placed on Tusla’s register following a case meeting with social workers and the child’s parents.

Children from the Traveller community made up 12 per cent of those on the at-risk register, but just 1 per cent of the wider population, the study said.

“Black or black-Irish children were also over-represented on the CPNS (5 per cent), when compared with the general population (2 per cent),” it said. Children with a disability were also over-represented, the research found.

In the vast majority of cases the child’s biological parents were deemed to be the ones placing them at risk of harm.

Listing a child on the system “necessitates a significant amount of administrative work”, which the study said may act as a “disincentive”, particularly in areas where social workers were under pressure, and lacked staff.

Vulnerable

The rate of vulnerable children on the equivalent Northern Ireland register was four times higher than Ireland, the research showed. The number of social workers per 1,000 people in Northern Ireland was also four times higher.

England, Scotland and Wales all also had higher rates of children registered on equivalent child-protection systems than Ireland.

The differing rates “raises questions” about the effectiveness of services in Ireland, and “what they say about whether children are safer … [and] families better supported”, the study concluded.

The over-representation of Traveller, black and disabled children on the system also needed to be examined, it recommended.

In a statement, Tusla said the time between referrals and children being listed on the register should not be considered delays.

“Significant intervention and support is provided to the family prior to listing a child,” a spokeswoman said.

“The decision to list a child is a very serious one and is taken where there are clear signs that a child is at ongoing risk. If a child has been identified as such, then their name will be added to the system within 24 hours,” she said.

Demographics

The research, which examined the demographics of 1,349 children on the register, found on average that children had had three different social workers.

Since the study, the number of children on the system has fallen even lower to 920, according to Tusla figures up to May this year.

Neglect was the most common reason children were placed on the register, followed by emotional abuse, and physical abuse, the research found.