At-risk children in north Dublin continue to face "unacceptable" waits before social workers assess referrals made to Tusla, the child and family agency, the State's healthcare watchdog has said.
Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) inspectors found that while high-risk cases were dealt with quickly, children deemed to be at medium or low risk faced "long delays" for Tusla services, which "resulted in prolonged and increased risks" for some of the children.
Hiqa inspected the north Dublin Tusla area over a number of days in February, at which point there were 711 children waiting for services. The area stretches from Darndale to Swords and Balbriggan and includes Dublin 15, which covers Blanchardstown and Ongar.
Hiqa said the area had been “under considerable strain for a significant period of time” with a shortfall between resources and demand for services.
Inspectors said immediate risks to children were “effectively managed”. Where social workers carried out preliminary inquiries and assessments, the interventions that followed were of good quality, and ensured children were safe.
However, the report noted that some preliminary enquiries were not completed within the required five-day period.
“Delays in many cases meant that children waited in situations where risks existed for unacceptable periods of time before social workers took this initial action to fully understand the severity, nature and impact of these risks,” it said.
A restructuring to deal with “staffing deficits” had led to significant progress in the last year, Hiqa said.
The service had received more than 5,600 referrals last year, up from 3,842 in 2019. Gardaí, teachers and other professionals made up the majority of mandated persons referring children to Tusla.
The large volume of cases meant the focus of the service was “addressing long-standing risks and the backlog of cases”, inspectors said.
The Hiqa report noted social workers and managers who were interviewed demonstrated commitment to serving the best interests of children, and ensuring their safety and protection.
Tusla had also managed the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, conducting home and face-to-face visits with children where necessary, it said.
There were delays in social workers carrying out preliminary enquiries in 50 out of 57 cases examined by inspectors.
“For some children, this meant that risks to their safety were prolonged and interventions to support them were delayed as a result of being placed on a waiting list for preliminary enquiry,” inspectors said.
There were also delays in initial assessments of cases, which had a “negative impact” on children and families, Hiqa said.
Overall, the report found that while there had been improvements, the Tusla service in north Dublin was not in compliance with six national standards.