The Health Information and Quality Authority has found major shortcomings in services provided by State's child protection agency, Tusla, in the Dublin South Central area.
The area includes the south inner city, Rialto, Inchicore, Ringsend, Rathmines, Rathfarnham, Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard, Clondalkin, Rowlagh, Palmerstown and Lucan.
Between January and September last year, the area received an average of 220 child protection and welfare referrals a month.
Hiqa made an announced inspection of the area last September to assess compliance with national standards on managing referrals.
It found that of the six standards assessed, major non-compliances were identified in five, with one found to be substantially compliant. There were “significant failings” at the screening and preliminary enquiry stage of the management of referrals.
Inspectors were particularly concerned that five initial assessments were completed without children having been seen. “This is not in line with good social work practice,” Hiqa stated.
At the time of the inspection, there were 77 cases on a waiting list for an initial assessment and 184 cases were awaiting further assessment.
Inspectors found there was no formal system in place to review waiting lists and no plan to address the backlog.
There was a delay in providing a social worker to some children and when their needs were assessed, the quality of initial and further assessments was “poor”.
In some cases there was an inadequate analysis of home situations, indicating that the children were not always appropriately safeguarded.
Inspectors found that appropriate measures were not consistently taken by social workers to protect children. In particular, the process of agreeing on safety plans with children's family members was not routinely implemented in practice.
Inspectors found that in 16 of 27 cases where safety plans were needed, these were not in place and most of those that were provided did not adequately address potential or known risks to children's safety.
Most of the findings did not surprise the management team – they had identified deficits before the inspection and had an improvement plan in place since September 2017.
Despite this, inspectors found that they were unable to successfully implement timely changes to provide a safe and effective service and this placed children at risk.
They also found that a new integrated national child care information system introduced in the area in May last year was not being used effectively.
Tusla's chief operations manager, Jim Gibson, said they accept the findings made in Hiqa's report that supplemented work already done internally to identify deficiencies in the Dublin South Central area.
The agency's service director, Linda Cramer, said there is no longer a backlog of referrals awaiting screening in the area.
Also, every case file has been reviewed to provide assurances to management that where there was an immediate risk to children, there was an immediate protective response.