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HIQA

Almost 400 children on child services waiting lists in Waterford

A HIQA inspection into Child Protection and Welfare Service in the county highlighted the problem but the HSE says it is working on clearing the lists.

OF THE 27 standards assessed by HIQA in its latest inspection of the HSE’s Child Protection and Welfare Service in Waterford, 11 were met and 16 were ‘met in part’.

However, the report also highlighted a continuing problem with long waiting lists.

At the the time of inspection, there were 397 children on a waiting list for initial assessment with another 31 boys and girls awaiting further assessments. However, HIQA noted that attempts had been made to clear the list and manage the risks associated during the waiting period.  Assurance has been given that clearing the lists is priority and extra staff have been hired.

The problems clearing the list meant the standard looking at the “timely and effective action to protect children” was only met in part.

According to HIQA, the area manager acknowledged the so-called ‘legacy’ waiting list problem was a “significant difficulty”. But where immediate and serious risk is identified, the service was seen to take emergency action.

Inspectors said they observed social workers responding to emergencies and convening strategy meetings at short notice.

“However, there was a significant difficulty in relation to the cases which had been on waiting lists for long periods of time. A review of these lists showed that the impact of long-term harm and neglect had not always been considered,” the report added.

The 31 children awaiting further assessments were also found to not have received a timely response.

The principal social worker informed inspectors that this occurred as staff who had gone on maternity leave and sick leave on the child protection team had not been replaced.

Outcomes

The outcomes of interventions were explored by inspectors who found that the social work department had improved the lives of many children and their families – but not all. Some young people’s lived “continued to be beset by difficulties”, they said.

Inspectors spoke to a number of children, young people and parents whose experience of interventions by the social work department were mainly positive. Children who spent a short period of time in care while their parents were engaging in therapeutic work were happy that they were reunited with their parents in a more stable environment.

Others told inspectors that being taken into care had provided them with a great deal of support and they had educational and vocational opportunities that they felt they would never have received had they remained at home. Some parents spoke about interventions that had helped them in understanding their role as parents and others were relieved that staff were providing them with practical support in difficult situations.

There was a different situation for some children who had been referred to the service multiple times.

“When the level of risk changed or there was lack of progress, timely reviews were not always held and appropriate action was not taken to improve the outcomes for children,” according to HIQA.

“There was no system in place to ensure the cases of children about whom multiple re-referrals were received were reviewed in order to evaluate changes in the level of risk.

“The data returned by the area showed that of the 1,499 referrals received in the 12-month reporting period, 657 of these related to children previously known to the service, which showed that nearly 44 per cent of referrals related to children that previously had been involved with the service.”

The dots were not connected meaning each referral was taken as an isolated case and categorised as low priority on a waiting list.

Failure to make the connection between multiple referrals and lack of progress or possible deterioration in a child’s situation meant that, in some cases, appropriate action was only taken when the child’s situation had reached crisis point.

There were no cases of organisational or institutional abuse under investigation in the area during the inspection but there was one case of a retrospective disclosure of abuse.

Inspectors observed that the area manager and managers within the social work department planned a response, which involved liaison with An Garda Síochána and contact with relevant voluntary organisations and families in order to establish if there was immediate risk to any children or young people. They considered relevant legislation and court judgements in relation to affording due process for the alleged perpetrator.

Read: “Radical action” needed to tackle lack of handwashing in hospitals

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Related: Patients at risk at ‘unclean’ Waterford Regional Hospital by lack of hand washing

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