Gardaí not notified of allegations of child abuse in some Tusla cases in south east
‘Drift and delay’ also found by Hiqa in review of child protection services
Hiqa, which carried out the assessment, said ‘drift and delay’ was identified in the completion of preliminary enquiries of between two and 11 months from the date of initial referral.
A review of Tusla child protection services in the Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary area has found not all allegations of suspected abuse were notified to An Garda Síochána by Tusla social workers.
It also found delays of up to nearly a year in carrying out preliminary inquiries that should have been completed in five days.
Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) inspectors escalated a total of ten cases during their inspection into child protection in the region in order to seek immediate action where there was a potential risk to children, the report published on Tuesday said.
The report into Child Protection and Welfare Services in the region identified “drift and delay” in assessing case referrals and a lack of improvement in lengthy waiting lists first identified in 2017. It also said delays in developing case files were compromising the quality of assessments.
Improvements were required to ensure allegations of suspected abuse were forwarded to gardaí and that children still living at home with family were properly safeguarded, it said.
Responding to the findings, the chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance Tanya Ward said while some improvements have been made, children were “slipping through the net”.
“There is huge value in such reports because they highlight what is a broad problem – the lack of social workers. Twenty five per cent of cases are still awaiting a social worker,” she told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
Hiqa said “drift and delay” was identified in the completion of preliminary enquiries of between two and 11 months from the date of initial referral.
Such delays, it found “had a negative impact on the intended purpose and function of preliminary enquiry within the referral process”.
“It also meant that for some children, who were awaiting a social work response, the necessary supports and safeguarding controls to protect and promote their safety and welfare were absent.”
Improvements have been made in the initial screening process since an earlier 2017 inspection but delays were also found in the completion of risk assessments, the next potential stage of a case file after an initial enquiry, of between three and 11 months.
“This meant that the presenting circumstances of the referral could be difficult to capture and assess and therefore the quality of the assessment process was compromised,” it said.
“For these children and families, they had not received the right service at the right time and this posed a risk to the service.”
Inspectors also found that due to an increase in referrals to the service, waiting lists for initial assessments remained unimproved since last inspection in 2017.
The systems of monitoring and oversight of the waiting list could not reliably measure risk to children or effectively manage potential risk, they said.
“This meant that children’s best interests and welfare, which are paramount in statutory child protection and welfare social work, were not promoted at the right time due to delays in the process.”
Significantly it said measures to safeguard children who remained at home with their families required improvement as did that designed to ensure allegations of suspected abuse were notified by social workers to An Garda Síochána. Inspectors escalated a total of ten cases during this inspection in order to seek immediate action where there was a potential risk to children.
The last inspection of the area in 2017 found the service as “majorly non-compliant” overall but this had now improved. Five out of six areas of examination were found to be moderately non-compliant and one was compliant. This latest examination also followed the receipt of information by Hiqa regarding low staffing levels.
Standardised practices incorporated into the initial screening process had been developed which ensured consistency, the report said. Preliminary enquiries conducted by social workers after this screening were found to be “mostly comprehensive”, despite the possibility of delays.