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Hiqa report suggests allegations of abuse in Dublin were 'underreported' by Tusla to gardaí

Hiqa’s inspectors reviewed 26 files and found that in 19 of them allegations had not been appropriately notified to gardaí by social workers.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via Rollingnews

AN INSPECTION REPORT on the child protection and welfare service operated by Tusla in the Dublin South Central area has suggested that there has been underreporting of allegations of abuse from the service to An Garda Síochána.

The Health Information and Quality Authority’s report states that inspectors reviewed 26 files for the purpose of examining whether or not allegations of abuse had been appropriately notified to gardaí by social workers and found that in 19 cases there was no evidence of notification on file.

“A tracking system implemented within the area for the purpose of monitoring notifications of abuse received from and sent to An Garda Síochána indicated that 56 notifications had been sent from Tusla to AGS in the six months prior to inspection, suggesting an underreporting of allegations of abuse from the child protection and welfare service to An Garda Síochána,” the report states. 

‘Extremely disadvantaged areas’

The inspection aimed to assess the service’s compliance with national standards relating to managing referrals to the point of completing a further assessment. Of the six standards assessed during the inspection, five were majorly non-compliant while one standard was found to be substantially compliant.

The report suggests that the South Dublin services ”did not have the capacity or capability to ensure a timely and safe service for children at risk of harm”.

The Dublin South Central Area provides services to areas which include Rialto, Rathmines, Palmerstown and Lucan. There are 65,564 children under the age of 18 in that area, as of 2016, with the report citing that many of the children live in “very disadvantaged” and “extremely disadvantaged” areas. 

According to the independent watchdog, Hiqa, the majority of risks identified during inspection fieldwork had been known to the area management team 12 months prior to the inspection which took place in September 2018. 

“Plans to improve the service had not sufficiently progressed and risks had not been escalated in the interim. Risk management processes were not fully embedded in practice, and systems designated to escalate and monitor risks were not effectively used,” the report states. 

Failings

Hiqa has reported significant failings when it came to the preliminary stages in the management of child protection and welfare referrals received by the service.

Today’s report found that there were delays in preliminary enquiries taking place, while 232 referrals were awaiting preliminary enquiries at the time of the inspection by Hiqa. 

Analysis of potential risks through screening of referral information was poor, and the risk ratings that were applied to the child were based on limited information, resulting in delays and inadequate responses to some children at risk.

The next step in the service is a waiting list for children and families who had undergone the screening and preliminary enquiry process and were awaiting allocation to a social worker. At the time of inspection in September 2018, there were 77 cases on a waiting list for an initial assessment and 184 cases awaiting further assessment.

According to the health watchdog, there was no formal system in place to review waiting lists and no plan to deal with the backlog. 

Those who did get allocated a social worker received a “varied service” with inspectors finding the overall social work practice to be poor and an “absence of adequate governance systems to ensure the effective implementation of national policies, frameworks and templates”.

While some children did experience a service where their needs were adequately assessed and the necessary interventions including immediate action were completed, other children received a delayed service with inspectors finding that the process of agreeing on safety plans with the children’s family members was not routinely implemented.

Inspectors found that in 16 of 27 cases where safety plans were required, these were not in place. Of those that were in place the majority were not comprehensive and did not adequately address potential or known risks to children’s safety.

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In May 2018, a new integrated National Child Care Information System was introduced but following September’s inspection Hiqa found that it is not being effectively used. 

Inspectors found that there were gaps in information as staff were not routinely inputting information into the system as required.

‘Totally unacceptable’ 

Following the inspection, Tusla informed Hiqa of a number of arrangements which are being established and/or reviewed by Tusla.

The Dublin South Central service area has also provided an action plan response to address the non-compliances identified during this inspection.

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Children and Youth Affairs Denise Mitchell said the findings of today’s report are “unacceptable and raise serious concerns”.

I am particularly concerned by what the report suggests is ‘an underreporting of allegations of abuse from the child protection and welfare service to An Garda Síochána’. This is totally unacceptable. Serious questions need to be raised as to why a robust system for notifying An Garda Síochána of suspected abuse was not in place and why social workers failed to act appropriately in this regard.

“Tusla deals with some of the most vulnerable children in our society and we want to be assured that children who are at risk are receiving the appropriate protection and support in a timely manner,” Mitchell said in a statement. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Tusla said: “The notification system between Tusla and An Garda Siochana has been reviewed and updated, and clear structures are in place as per the new Joint Working Protocol for An Garda Síochána and Tusla which is in place since 2017. There is also a very proactive joint service development programme between An Garda Siochana and Tusla to improve outcomes.”

The Department of Children is yet to respond to a request for comment. 

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Adam Daly

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