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tusla

Children who alleged inappropriate contact and assault left months on waiting list, Hiqa says

Hiqa carried out a risk-based assessment of Tusla child protection and welfare services in the west of the country in April 2023.

AN INSPECTION OF a child protection and welfare service in the east of the country by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has found that children who alleged inappropriate contact and assault have been left on waiting lists for months. 

Hiqa carried out a risk-based assessment of the Tusla child protection and welfare services in the Dublin South West Kildare West Wicklow service area in April 2023. 

The inspection focused on the management of child protection and welfare referrals from the point of receipt of the referral to the allocation of the referral to a social worker. 

The watchdog found that there was a “chronic shortfall” in staffing resources to meet the demand in the service, including gaps in the monitoring and oversight of waitlisted cases and the completion of safety planning. 

Many children and families were waiting prolonged periods for preliminary enquiries and initial assessments to take place, the report found. 

Months on waiting lists 

Following a review of files, the report outlines examples of the potential impact on children who were on waiting lists. 

In one example, a four-year-old child who had alleged inappropriate contact by an older child remained on a waiting list five months later. The report noted that “given the age of this child, their ability to recount the incident months later may not be reliable”. 

In another example, a teenage who alleged sexual assault 14 months ago was still on a waiting list. 

The report also outlined that children were referred to the service due to concerns regarding their contact with a person of concern. 

Hiqa said that no action had been taken to establish if these children did have contact, or if they were at risk, and the case remained on the waitlist at the time of inspection, over four months later. 

The report outlined that inspectors brought this to the attention of the service during the inspection. The social worker department was unsuccessful in contacting the family during the timeframe of the inspection. Therefore, the report noted, the risk to these children remained unknown. 

However, Hiqa said assurances were given that the service area would continue to follow this up following the inspection. 

Another example given in the report outlined that children under the age of eight were referred to the service because they were found home alone. The case was on a waiting list for four months. 

This was brought to the attention of the service during the inspection. Howevewr, they were unable to determine if the children were still living at the address given. 

As a result, Hiqa said that these children may have moved to another area and that the risk to them remained unassessed and unaddressed. 

‘Area of concern’

The area inspected has been a service area of concern to Hiqa since 2019, when an inspection found the area to be non-compliant with all four standards inspected against. 

A further inspection in December 2020 found that of the nine child protection stanards inspected against, the service area was compliant in just one standard, and substantially compliant in two standards. 

Further inspections were carried out at later dates.

However, despite being given assurances from the service providers, the Chief Inspector of Hiqa wrote to the Assistant Secretary General of the Department of Children in February 2023 to outline the risks identified in relation to the child protection and welfare service in the Dublin South West Kildare West Wicklow service area.

A decision was taken to carry out a risk-based inspection of the service to confirm that the assurances were being actioned and were keeping children that were waiting for a social worker to be assigned safe. 

A service improvement plan was received from Tusla in 2023. 

Hiqa report

The Hiqa report noted that overall, the quality and safety of the service required significant improvement to ensure it met the needs of all children and their families who required the service. 

The majority of referrals were screened in a timely fashion and were of good quality, it said. 

Referrals identifying immediate or high risk to children were responded to quickly and there were no high-priority cases awaiting allocation. 

However, it noted that there was an “unacceptably long wait time” for preliminary enquiries to take place, especially for cases prioritised as low or medium risk at screening. 

Preliminary enquiries are carried out to determine what action is required to address the needs of and risks to the child.

As enquiries did not take place in a timely fashion, the risk to these children was largely unknown, Hiqa said. 

“This meant that children and families were not receiving the right service at the right time, and many children remained on waitlists for extended periods without being provided with relevant supports,” Hiqa said.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the “fact that any children are awaiting a significant period of time is a concern”, and that a recruitment campaign was underway to address a shortfall in the number of social workers.

“The report points out that those children who were in most urgent need were seen within that time,” the Green Party minister added.

He told RTÉ Radio One that Ireland has a “very significant problem in terms of recruitment” of social workers but additional social workers have been put in place to deal with the intake of new cases faced by the agency and to provide greater levels of cover for social work.

Additional reporting by Eoghan Dalton

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