Review of child and family agency Tusla exposes failings

Health watchdog’s regional analysis notes progress but ‘improvements still required’

A newborn baby at risk of neglect, and a family experiencing domestic violence, received “inadequate safeguarding” from Tusla, according to a hard-hitting report published on Monday.

The inspection document by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) of Tusla's services in Dublin southwest/Kildare/west Wicklow finds repeated instances of child abuse and neglect being miscategorised as "welfare" cases . Consequently, they were treated less urgently.

Delays in responding to cases led to a homeless child waiting two months to be seen by a social worker, while young people leaving foster care were left at serious risk of homelessness.

The inspection of child protection, welfare and fostering services in the region took place between September 27th and 30th, 2021. Its purpose was to review areas of non-compliance during the last inspection in December 2020.

It found the area now had an experienced senior management team with clear lines of responsibility. Cases awaiting allocation for preliminary inquiry had declined 43 per cent, from 168 in December 2020 to 96, numbers awaiting allocation for initial assessment had fallen 71 per cent from 98 to 28 and 81 cases were waiting for support services compared to 112, a reduction of 28 per cent.

But improvements were still required, particularly in the quality of intake assessments.

Of 26 preliminary inquiries examined by inspectors, “quality issues” were found in seven and five of these cases had “multiple issues”.

“Five cases were found to be categorised as child welfare where inspectors found the reported concerns related to abuse or neglect categories. Inspectors found two cases were prioritised as medium where the case met the threshold for a high priority response.”

Neglect of newborn

In three cases “the quality issues with the preliminary inquiry resulted in poor identification of risk to children and inadequate safeguarding”.

For example, concerns relating to neglect of a newborn that required a prioritised response were not addressed as part of the preliminary inquiry. And in another case the history of domestic violence reported did not result in safety planning with the family or An Garda Síochána, noted Hiqa.

Delayed responses led to safeguarding inadequacies. In one case, “a child was homeless who waited two months before having contact with social work. In another . . . there was a reported concern that a child was sexually abused. This concern needed to be verified but sufficient actions were not taken to ensure the child did not have contact with the alleged abuser in the 3½ months up to the inspection.”

Responding to the report, Tusla area manager Audrey Warren wanted to "reassure the public that where a child is at immediate risk they receive an immediate and protective response. While this report highlights many examples of the good practice that occur . . . it also reflects the pressures that exist in some areas.

“Tusla has agreed a number of actions with Hiqa to improve the service . . . we will continue our commitment to further improvements in the months ahead.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times