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Tusla expressed concern children could be at risk of 'immediate harm' due to restrictions on its services

Internal risk reports expressed concern about the impact of reduced home visits and face-to-face meetings.
May 30th 2020, 7:00 AM 12,173 19

CHILDREN COULD BE at risk of “immediate harm” because of restrictions on services from Tusla due to Covid-19, according to internal risk reports from the agency.

Tusla’s risk ratings were raised to their maximum levels amid concerns over how services could be provided with limits on home visits, difficulties in providing frontline services, and a lack of foster placements.

A copy of Tusla’s Covid-19 risk register has been released under FOI and paints a stark picture of the challenges facing them during the public health crisis.

The risk register said due to contact restrictions, review postponements, fostering difficulties, and postponed court proceedings – unforeseen disruption of frontline services would result in an “increased risk of harm to children”.

It warned that children were at “risk of immediate harm” if Tusla was no longer in position to provide frontline child protection services.

It also said there was risk of an “impact on welfare and protection of children” due to a reduction in face-to-face meetings, home visits, and access visits.

The risk register also said residential services would also be affected leading to “disruption to the statutory services provided” according to the register.

It said non-essential services – primarily five respite services – would likely have to be closed. Staff would also have to be redeployed leading to a financial requirement for the hiring of outsourced workers.

Tusla also warned of increased risks to people availing of services where they were the victim of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence.

“As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said, “there may be unforeseen disruption of frontline services resulting in an increased risk to families and children availing of [such] services.”

Accommodation 

It said urgent attention was required on providing alternative accommodation “to avoid potential contamination” scenarios.

The register also said access to additional bed capacity was required urgently and other options including the use of Airbnb would have to be looked at.

Three areas of Tusla’s primary work were elevated to an inherent risk rating of 25 points out of 25 on the register with a warning of the potential for “extreme” negative effects.

This could result in undermining of public confidence, the possibility of a public inquiry, a risk to a large number of children, or a “gross failure to meet external standards”.

Separately, a briefing prepared ahead of a meeting with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone also detailed “issues emerging” as Tusla tried to deal with the Covid-19 fallout.

“Home visiting balanced against health concerns,” was listed as a key challenge while Tusla were also worried referrals would fall, depending on how long restrictions were in place.

For children in care, they were worried about reduced family contact, limited foster place availability, and management of “risk based behaviour”.

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In refuges and other services for victims of violence, Tusla said key worries were restrictions in the event of Covid-19 outbreak, the ability for people in trouble to call services, and a loss of fundraising capability.

The agency expected over thirteen weeks, an extra €5 million would be required in addition to its normal budget, according to the records.

Proactively planning

A spokesperson for Tusla said they have been proactively planning for possible scenarios and the continuation of essential services like child protection, children in care, and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.

She said: “As with all public service, and private organisations, the current pandemic poses challenges for service delivery and it is prudent to prepare a risk register which is focused on highlighting the worst case scenario so that we can put mitigating actions in place to reduce the likelihood of that risk occurring.

“We have been very open about the areas that pose the most challenges for the agency, including residential care, home visiting and access.”

She said these issues had been addressed by Tusla’s crisis management team and their senior leadership with extensive guidance provided to staff.

The spokesperson also said staff had been going “above and beyond” to provide services during the public health crisis.

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