Tusla does not notify gardaí of child neglect, abuse in timely manner - report

‘Major non-compliance’ found in standards of care in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow

An audit of how suspected child abuse cases are referred to gardaí by social workers is to be undertaken following a highly critical inspection of services.

An audit of how suspected child abuse cases are referred to gardaí by social workers is to be undertaken following a highly critical inspection of services.

 

An audit of how suspected child abuse cases are referred to gardaí by social workers is to be undertaken following a highly critical inspection of services.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found major non-compliance in standards of care for at risk children in the Dublin South, West Kildare and West Wicklow region across four assessment areas.

Of particular concern was that the service, operated by the child and family agency Tusla, did not routinely notify gardaí “of suspected crimes of wilful neglect or physical or sexual abuse against children in a timely manner”.

As part of a response to the findings, which followed a three day inspection last April, Tusla has committed to carrying out a “national audit/review” of notifications made to gardaí.

The area under inspection includes about 108,000 people under the age of 18 and is considered to have the third highest level of social deprivation of 17 areas. It was carried out following concerns regarding foster care services in the area last November.

In the six months prior to the inspection, the area had received 2,116 child protection referrals. Tusla has a self-imposed timeframe of 24 hours in which to process these but has fallen short of the standard.

Forum

The agency will now establish a “regional child protection and welfare forum” to support learning and service implementation, including how cases ought to be brought to garda attention.

Tusla has also decided to consider “bespoke recruitment initiatives” given concerns raised by inspectors about staffing shortfalls.

“Staffing deficits remained high across the entire Tusla service area,” Tuesday’s report noted.

Inspectors found that because of this problem, social workers did not routinely visit children and their families. As such, preliminary inquiries into welfare cases, including interactions with the families, were done over the phone.

“In this context, inspectors could not see how meaningful interactions with families to assess and implement safeguarding measures could be put in place,” the report found.

Individual response

Referrals of child welfare cases did not always receive an individual response through what is termed a “unique preliminary inquiry”, an important standard in dealing with issues of concern that were often “significantly delayed”.

Inspectors did find examples of good social work practice with innovative and effective measures to divert families to external agencies where necessary.

“However, as children did not receive a service that promoted their welfare and protected them from harm in a responsive manner, this impacted on the timely development and implementation of safety plans,” it said.

Inspectors also discovered that IT systems available to staff had the ability to increase efficiency in referral management but were not being used to their potential.

“The oversight of child protection and welfare cases was poor,” it said.