HIQA inspection finds child sexual abuse case left waiting 11 months for initial assessment

Tusla services in the Louth Meath area were deemed non-compliant by inspectors in three areas of quality and safety.

A HEALTH INFORMATION and Quality Authority (HIQA) inspection into Tusla’s Louth Meath service area found significant delays in inquiries, such as in the case of a sexual abuse referral that was awaiting an initial assessment for 11 months.

The inspection, which took place in late April of this year, found that a safety plan had been put in place in May 2021 for that case but had not been monitored or reviewed since that time.

A senior manager told inspectors that this case and similar child sexual abuse cases, which were primarily prioritised as medium or low risk cases, had been escalated to their line manager as the team did not have capacity to work some of these cases.

Inspectors were concerned about the safety of children in one case reviewed as part of this inspection in which the initial assessment was still in progress in April, despite being identified as high priority case at the preliminary inquiry stage in June 2021.

As part of a sample of cases looked at by inspectors, the wait times from the point of referral to awaiting allocation for preliminary inquiry ranged from one to four months (16 cases), six months (three cases), eight months (one case) and 10 months (one case).

Inspectors also noted that records did not always clearly record how cases were progressing from week to week.

Tusla released a statement to say that the problems had arisen in part due to a lack of staff and capacity, and said that it had work to do to ensure that “children and families in Louth Meath receive a timely service”.

Eilidh MacNab, regional chief officer with Tusla in Dublin North East, said: 

“Due in part to challenges in the areas of staffing and capacity, we have not reached the expected standards. These issues being experienced by the agency are a common concern for many other European social and healthcare providers.”

As part of the inspection, parents who had been in contact with Tusla were interviewed and the majority of parents spoke positively of the service.

However, not all parents felt like they were part of the assessment process as some said they did not know the reason for the service’s involvement.

Some stated that initial assessments were not explained to them or they did not fully understand that they were part of an assessment undertaken by the social worker.

Parents from different cultural backgrounds felt that the service was not culturally responsive to their needs as additional resources, such as translation services, needed to aid good communication were not effectively used and they did not feel engaged in all aspects of the process.

Tusla services were non-compliant in the three areas of quality and safety and under the capacity and capability category were deemed non-compliant in one area and substantially compliant in another.

The inspection report outlined several actions needed to improve Tusla services including the hiring of seven new staff by October, a combination of overtime and new resources.

With additional reporting from PA