HIQA finds Tusla service area had 'very low' referral rate of child neglect cases to Gardaí

HIQA finds Tusla service area had 'very low' referral rate of child neglect cases to Gardaí

Tusla has been criticised by the State's health services watchdog for failing to notify gardaí of suspected neglect or physical or sexual abuse against children promptly.

The Health Information and Quality Authority also found shortcomings in screening child protection and welfare referrals and that basic checks were not always completed as part of preliminary inquiries.

The findings are included in a report published by Hiqa on child protection and welfare in the Dublin South West/Kildare, West Wicklow area following an announced inspection over three days in April.

There were 2,116 referrals made to the service in the six months before the inspection and, of those, only 24 had been made to gardaí – a very low number.

Of 77 referrals reviewed by inspectors, none had a notification made to the gardaí by Tusla. However, the inspectors found eight referrals where a garda notification might have been required.

During interviews with inspectors, the Tusla regional service director acknowledged that the number of garda notifications was low and issued a memo directing staff that gardaí should be notified where there was a suspicion of abuse.

The area is one of the 17 service areas in the Child and Family Agency and has a high level of deprivation. It has a population of more than 400,000 and more than a quarter are children.

Major non-compliance was found in all of the four standards for the protection and welfare of children during the inspection that was undertaken because of risks identified during a previous inspection of the foster care service in November 2018.

During the previous inspection staffing deficits were blamed for compromising the delivery of a safe and effective service.

The inspectors found that some key changes made over the previous 12 months had not been completed.

    These included:

  • Changes in senior management in the area,
  • The adoption of a national approach to child protection and welfare,
  • The introduction of mandatory reporting,
  • Changes to the national standard operating procedures,
  • The roll-out of the national child care information system (NCCIS).

They also found that Tusla was understaffed across the entire service area, with 26 vacancies at the time of inspection.

Effective measures were taken to reduce the backlog of referrals being recorded on the National Childcare Information System but there were still “significant problems” operating waiting lists at the preliminary enquiry stage.

There were no systems in place to formally review cases on a waiting list for preliminary enquiry and cases were closed to the service without the required checks being made.

Inspectors reviewed cases that showed good co-working with An Garda Síochána. However, gardaí were not being routinely notified about suspected crimes of wilful neglect or physical or sexual abuse against children promptly.

They did find examples of good social work practice. Most children at immediate and serious risk received an appropriate response from staff to safeguard them.

Tusla's chief operations officer Jim Gibson said they accepted the report's findings but stated that the agency had made “important headway” in implementing a range of measures to reform child protection and welfare services within a “very challenging” area.

In five out of six reviewed by inspectors, immediate action was taken where required.

Patricia Finlay, Service Director at Tusla, said: “Tusla advised HIQA of a number of on-going issues and concerns. The issues identified within this inspection had been previously identified by management and staff in this area, and a number of initiatives are already completed, or underway."

    They are:

  • Issues of timeliness regarding notifications to An Garda Siochana have been corrected, with all notifications now made at the point of intake. The inspection also highlighted excellent interagency collaboration with An Garda Siochana in this area.
  • All referrals have now been recorded on NCCIS, and no further backlog exists. The issue has been resolved.
  • Issues with categorisation and priority levels systems have now been resolved, with new screening sheets and processes now in place.

Ms Finlay said: "While we acknowledge that there were shortcomings in systems and administrative practices which have largely been rectified, we are satisfied that the child protection practice provides safe and effective care for children.

"Tusla remains committed to improving the care and safeguarding of children in Dublin South West/Kildare/West Wicklow and all other children in our care."

- Additional reporting by Digital Desk

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