Hiqa criticises delays in Tusla notifying Garda of suspected child abuse in Kerry

Watchdog critical of five month delay from Tusla notifying gardaí of suspected abuse

Despite improvements, the State’s healthcare watchdog has said delays from Tusla in notifying the Garda about cases of suspected child abuse in the Kerry area remain.

Despite improvements, the State’s healthcare watchdog has said delays from Tusla in notifying the Garda about cases of suspected child abuse in the Kerry area remain.

 

Delays from Tusla, the child and family agency, in notifying the Garda about cases of suspected child abuse in the Kerry area remains an issue, despite recent reforms, according to the State’s healthcare watchdog.

Previously, The Irish Times reported that Tusla had failed to refer 365 cases of suspected child abuse in Kerry to gardaí for investigation.

Internal reviews raised concerns the practice could have thwarted possible criminal investigations into alleged abuse.

It also emerged last year that 161 cases, where adults reported alleged childhood abuse, had been left unaddressed by social workers in the Co Kerry area.

After uncovering the shortcomings Tusla put in place a rapid service improvement plan, to restructure teams in the area and improve standards.

A new inspection report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), published on Wednesday, found while there had been improvement, some concerns remained.

Inspectors found delays by social workers of up to five months in notifying the Garda about cases of suspected child abuse.

The timeliness of Tusla notifying gardaí about suspected abuse cases “remained an issue,” the Hiqa report stated.

Reforms in the Kerry area were “not fully effective in addressing deficits” in foster care services, Hiqa said.

There were “significant gaps” in the frequency of visits to children in foster care in the area, with little to no records taken of visits on some children’s files.

Some 155 children were in foster care in the Kerry area at the time of the Hiqa inspection on January 18th.

Inspectors found some children had experienced “gaps and inconsistencies” in being allocated social workers over the past two years.

Two children who had recent visits from social workers to check up on them had not been visited for more than a year before that, the report said.

Delays in visits from Tusla to children in foster care were evident throughout 2019 and 2020, Hiqa said.

The system of oversight to make sure children in foster care were visited regularly by social workers was “inadequate,” the inspection report said.

Hiqa said it was “concerning” that despite previous critical inspections, improvements were “not evident for children living in foster care.”

Ten children in State care did not have an allocated social worker, with “no system to manage and oversee” these cases, the watchdog said.

The Hiqa report did point to a number of improvements that had been made, compared to previous inspections.

Of a sample of child protection and welfare reports made to Tusla about children, all were screened within 24 hours, compared to 31 per cent screened within 24 hours in 2019.

Further preliminary inquiries had taken place in two out of ten cases within five days, compared to one out of 38 cases in 2019.

Three quarters of initial assessments of referrals to Tusla were completed in a timely manner, compared to 57 per cent of referrals in 2019.

In a statement, Kate Duggan, Tusla director of services and integration, said the agency was “pleased” Hiqa had noted improvements on past inspections.

“This area has, for a range of reasons struggled to achieve full compliance with Hiqa standards and management in the area is working to address operational issues, some of which were identified prior to the Hiqa inspection,” she said.

“Whilst challenges remain for this area, there has been progress made and additional resources have been provided to the area to assist with this work,” she said.