Children in one of the country’s busiest foster care and child protection and welfare service areas are still at risk due to on-going delays in receiving services, a Hiqa inspection has found.
The review of the services provided by Tusla in Dublin South Central also found evidence of poor assessment of concerns relating to foster carers. In one case social workers failed to talk to children about the allegation and in another, interviewed them in the presence of the foster carer against whom the allegation was made.
In the two other cases the serious welfare concern was deemed “unfounded” despite the foster carer admitting the incident occurred or without adequately assessing the allegation.
They were among a number of shortcomings identified in the Hiqa follow-up inspection last March - the third for the Dublin South Central Service Area in eight months.
Previous inspections in July and September last year had identified major non-compliances. This inspection report showed 1,001 referrals on a waiting list for a child protection and welfare service, 714 awaiting preliminary enquiries, 269 awaiting initial assessment and 18 awaiting further assessment. According to Hiqa:
It also said “there was no clear, timely plan” to address the backlog issue.
There were waiting lists at all stages of the referral process, although the principal social workers and area manager told Hiqa the backlog would be addressed over the coming months.
Data provided indicated 206 high priority cases awaiting allocation, 61 of which were awaiting preliminary enquiry, with 135 on a waiting list for initial assessment and 10 waiting commencement of a further assessment.
Previous inspections had also raised concerns over the management of allegations and serious concerns against foster carers. Since then improvements had been made but inspectors still found evidence of “significant drift” - in a small sample of cases it had taken between 13 months and over two years to reach conclusions.
New allegations were being dealt with more quickly but there was still evidence of poor safety planning and ongoing delays in the emergency placement process. As for child protection and welfare referrals, HIQA found that responses to significant risks were inadequate and did not effectively ensure a timely, safe service. Some improvements had been made but Hiqa said it still did not mitigate the risks to children.
As for the system for notifying An Garda Síochána of suspected abuse, of 21 referrals reviewed only eight had been sent to gardaí as required, and of the 13 outstanding referrals, five were awaiting notification since 2018.