Delays in dealing with ‘high priority’ abuse cases criticised

Review of south Dublin services found Tusla lacks ‘concrete plan to address risk in a timely way’

Tusla said it wished to reassure the public ‘where a child is at immediate risk, they receive an immediate and protective response’. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tusla said it wished to reassure the public ‘where a child is at immediate risk, they receive an immediate and protective response’. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Less than half of suspected child abuse cases in south Dublin that should be notified to gardaí by Tusla are being reported in a timely manner, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has found.

In a hard-hitting report on fostering and child welfare services in Dublin South Central, Hiqa says children at risk of abuse identified as “high priority” are being left without a home visit by a social worker for up to six weeks or more.

“Despite an acute awareness within the area of a significant number of high and medium priority cases awaiting social work intervention there was no concrete plan to address this risk in a timely way,” the report says.

Tusla told Hiqa inspectors “these high risk referrals were being prioritised where capacity allowed” and local social workers and team leaders said they were “confident” cases awaiting allocation were being “monitored”.

The report follows two inspections last year of the area which encompasses parts of both Dublin City and South Dublin County.

Included are south inner-city, Rialto, Inchicore, Ringsend, Rathfarnham, Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard, Clondalkin, Rowlagh, Palmerstown and Lucan. More than 65,000 children under 18 live in these areas.

The report said that, although processes for notifying suspected child abuse to gardaí had improved since welfare services were last inspected in September 2018, these were “in the early stages of implementation” and more work was needed to ensure consistency of approach.

Of 21 referrals reviewed for the report, where a Garda notification was needed, “only eight (38 per cent) had been sent as required and of the 13 outstanding referrals five were awaiting notification since 2018”.

There was ongoing “confusion” among social workers as to whether they had to validate or substantiate allegations of abuse before notifying gardaí, or whether all child abuse allegations should be immediately notified.

Inspectors found “insufficient” improvement in how child safety referrals were screened - with ongoing delays.

“This represented a significant risk to children about whom referrals were made... and urgent tasks were not within the capacity of the team to complete safely due to the significant backlog which existed.”

Inspectors found, for example, four cases referred this year “identified as a high priority and where a determination had been made that a home visit was required to ensure the safety of the child/children concerned” where the visits had been delayed for between one week and more than six weeks.

There were also ongoing welfare concerns about children in foster care, with inspectors citing “significant drift” in their management .

Jim Gibson, chief operations officer at Tusla said: “We accept the findings in the report and welcome the acknowledgement that Tusla has made significant progress in reforming the child protection and foster care system within the area.

“From the outset we want to reassure the public that where a child is at immediate risk, they receive an immediate and protective response which was reflected throughout the report.”

He said while improvements were still required Tusla was “confident that the service improvement plan currently being undertaken in the area will improve the service and address the issues identified”.