Serious failings found in child protection services in Dublin south central

Hiqa says figures suggest ‘under-reporting’ of allegations of abuse to An Garda Síochána

In some cases social workers failed to notify gardaí of suspected abuse of children. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

In some cases social workers failed to notify gardaí of suspected abuse of children. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Serious failings within the child protection and welfare service operated by the Child and Family Agency Tusla in Dublin south central included failures in some cases by social workers to notify gardaí of suspected abuse of children.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), which has statutory responsibility for monitoring the quality of services provided by Tusla to protect children and promote their welfare, published a report of its inspection of the services on Thursday.

Inspectors reviewed cases where social workers did not identify children at risk of harm in a timely manner and they found one example where there was a delay of more than three months in completing preliminary inquiry where physical abuse was alleged, Hiqa said.

“In another case, there were delays of more than six months in implementing an appropriate safety plan with respect to allegations of physical abuse of a child.” The report also noted a “chaotic system” for management of cases on waiting lists.

The authority said inspectors found good examples of immediate action taken such as visiting a child in their home, joint home visits with members of An Garda Síochána, taking a child into the care of the State and/or implementation of safety arrangements to keep a child safe.

But it said the system in place for notifying gardaí of suspected abuse was “not robust and some notifications were not made by social workers as required”.

Hiqa also said a review of cases suggested an “under-reporting” of allegations of abuse from the child protection and welfare service to An Garda Síochána.

Some 56 notifications of alleged abuse had been sent to gardaí in the six months prior to the inspection. But a review of 26 case files where there were allegations of abuse found that, in 19 of them, there was no evidence that gardaí had been notified. This suggested abuse allegations were under-reported.

Appropriate measures were not consistently taken by social workers to protect children, Hiqa said. It said the majority of the findings in the report would “not come as a surprise” to the management team of the Dublin south central child protection and welfare service, which had identified deficits and had put a service improvement plan in place since 2017.

The report of the themed inspections carried out last September also reported “low morale amongst the majority of social workers” and said some social workers told inspectors that “they lacked confidence in senior management”.

“It was of particular concern to inspectors that a number of staff members said that they did not have confidence in the protected disclosure process,” the report added.

It noted 234 referrals of all levels of priority were placed on a waiting list, some for significant periods prior to basic preliminary inquiries being completed. There were delays and inadequate responses to some children at risk and there was no clear plan to address backlogs of referrals awaiting social work intervention.

Of the six standards assessed by inspectors, five were identified as major non-compliances and one standard was found to be substantially compliant.

Children who were allocated a social worker received a “varied” service. Some children experienced a good quality service where their needs were adequately assessed and the necessary interventions were completed.

Chief operations officer of Tusla Jim Gibson said the agency accepted the findings and he said the agency had made “important headway in implementing a range of measures to reform child protection and welfare services within a very challenging area.

“This inspection report provides us with important additional measurement and oversight, to supplement the work already done internally, in identifying deficiencies in the service area. It also assists us with ensuring that our child protection and welfare services operate at the highest possible standard,” Mr Gibson said.