Social worker allocation in southeast ‘chaotic’, finds Hiqa

Inspectors from state watchdog say retention of staff in Tusla services was ‘very poor’

Children told inspectors they were ‘tired of sharing my story over and over’ and ‘there are so many social workers coming to me and then going’

Children told inspectors they were ‘tired of sharing my story over and over’ and ‘there are so many social workers coming to me and then going’

 

The allocation of social workers to children in care in the southeast was “chaotic and not child centred”, the State’s health watchdog has found.

Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said the retention of staff was “very poor” in foster care services operated by Tusla in the Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary service area.

An announced inspection of foster care services in the area last May found children experienced frequent changes to their allocated social workers and long periods without one.

“Children were visited by multiple different Tusla professionals, significant events were not always responded to, actions agreed at care planning reviews were not followed up on and, as a result, support services were not always provided,” according to Hiqa.

Children told inspectors they were “tired of sharing my story over and over” and “there are so many social workers coming to me and then going”.

“I was without a social worker for over two years, and one was appointed three weeks before I was due to turn 18,” a child said.

Unplanned manner

Some children’s placements ended in an unplanned manner due to “failure by the area to provide appropriate services in a timely manner”.

Data provided to inspectors indicated that more than a fifth of children (72 out of 312 children) did not have an allocated social worker.

However, a review of files showed that following an increase in staffing, some children were only allocated a social worker in the weeks prior to the inspection. Many of these children had experienced long periods without an allocated social worker.

“Systems to manage care planning were disorganised and negatively impacted children. The system for care planning and reviews was poorly managed and resulted in children’s needs not being met. Care planning was significantly delayed and of poor quality,” the inspection report said.

Inspectors also found aftercare services in the area were “significantly under-resourced and not well established”. Where social workers completed assessments of need and aftercare plans, they were of good quality; however, there was insufficient capacity within the aftercare service and a significant number of eligible children had not been referred to the service.

Oversight

Hiqa said the service area had appointed a dedicated person to provide oversight of the complaints process in November 2018. However, this system had not yet fully brought about an improvement in the area’s management of complaints at the time of the inspection.

“Complaints, either verbal or in writing, to the area management office were not always recorded, and responsiveness to complaints was poor,” it said.

Inspectors said there was improvements found in relation to how allegations and serious concerns were managed, and these were assessed and investigated in a timely manner.

The management of allegations against foster carers and safety plans put in place following allegations were both of “good quality”, they said.

Dermot Halpin, service director for Tusla South said a number of improvement measures have been taken since the inspection took place “to remedy the issues identified”.

“These improvements are being carried out on an ongoing basis. Further progress will be made in the months ahead, and timeframes to achieve this will be monitored rigorously,” he said.

“Our very detailed and robust action plan has been accepted by Hiqa, and we are working proactively towards reaching all of our targets in this regard.”