Concerns over child safety in Laois-Offaly after files found

Files - some of which date back at least 10 years - are being reviewed by Tusla

Minister for Children James Reilly said his immediate priority was ‘to ensure that no child is at risk of harm’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Children James Reilly said his immediate priority was ‘to ensure that no child is at risk of harm’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

Child safety concerns have been raised following the discovery of some 700 files which may not have been assessed by social workers in the Laois/Offaly area.

A further 822 files where gardaí made referrals to Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) or its predecessor the HSE, are also being examined to establish which, if any, of the referrals were acted upon.

The files - some of which date back at least 10 years - were discovered by a recently appointed principal social worker in Tusla’s Portlaoise office.

Asked whether there were concerns over child safety as a result, a spokeswoman for the agency acknowledged that, given the number of files identified, “there is a fear there”. She said its first priority was to identify any risk to children.

Two external, independent child care experts and nine senior social workers are conducting a review which is due to be completed by Friday, May 8th.

The review will establish what assessment, if any, took place on the files: “At this stage we don’t know,” the spokeswoman said, adding that until all the files had been assessed the agency was not in a position to provide further information on their contents.

The discovery came after a new principal social worker was appointed to head up the office’s duty intake team. This team makes an initial assessment of information received by the office and determines any immediate risk to a child’s protection and welfare needs.

Over a number of weeks the social worker became aware of the volume of potentially unassessed files and notified senior management of the extent of the issue on Friday.

On Monday the agency contacted the Department of Health saying it had identified evidence of significant risks in how referrals were managed in the child welfare and protection service in the Laois/Offalyl area.

The Minister for Children, James Reilly raised the issue publicly at the Oireachtas sub commitee on Health and Children yesterday. He said the highest priority was “to ensure that no child is at risk of harm”.

“I have sought and have been assured by Tusla that all necessary measures to deal comprehensively with the situation have been, or are being, put in place,” he said.

He said he would consider in due course whether an independent investigation was warranted.

Tusla’s chief executive Gordon Jeyes said the agency was “taking the matter very seriously” and an investigation into the matter would be conducted independent of local management.

The Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said Tusla should move as quickly as possible to ensure no child is left in a vulnerable situation as a result of the files not being managed in the correct manner.

He also raised concerns “that over 800 referrals from Gardai have not been acknowledged, which suggests there could be some children at serious risk who have not been properly cared for”.

Chief executive of the Children Rights Alliance, Tanya Warde also raised concern over the potential risk to children.

Tusla took over responsibility for child welfare and protection from the HSE in January 2014. Anyone with concerns about a child in Laois/Offaly can call the Tusla helpline on 044 9395020.