Hundreds of children neglected as ‘urgent’ files found

At least 127 children have been identified as requiring “urgent attention” following an emergency review by the Child and Family Agency of case files recently discovered in Laois and Offaly.

Tusla confirmed that an audit of 743 case files had found that 660 required the allocation of a social worker — including 127 that require immediate action.

The review had been prompted by the discovery at the end of April of hundreds of files by a recently appointed principal social worker in Tusla’s Portlaoise office. The discovery of the files — as well as another 822 files where gardaí had made referrals to either Tusla or to the HSE — had sparked concerns for the welfare of the children mentioned in the previously unattended-to files.

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Tusla said it was “with regret” that it acknowledged it had not had the capacity to get a “clearer picture” of the situation in the two Midlands counties and that it was now taking steps to bring in additional staff so it can deal with referrals while the backlog of cases receives “urgent attention”.

Fred McBride, Tusla chief operating officer, said: “A clear weakness identified in the Laois/Offaly area has been that relating to filing and records management.

“It is with regret that Tusla acknowledges its lack of capacity to readily access information which would have given a clearer picture of the operation of social work in Laois/Offaly which would have lessened concerns regarding files.

“Efforts will be ongoing to strengthen IT capacity, not just in Laois/Offaly but throughout the organisation.”

Some of the files discovered in Portlaoise dated back as far as 1998.

Tusla said that, following the completion of the audit of the discovered social work files, its management procedures are being reviewed and improved and a reform duty and intake system is also in operation involving six social workers managed by a principal social worker.

The revelation that some children may have remained in vulnerable or abusive situations because of the lack of attention paid to the files comes after Tusla chief executive Gordon Jeyes told an Oireachtas committee earlier this month that the status of the files had been “unclear” at the time they were found in the office in Portlaoise.

Mr Jeyes said the “previously unidentified” files had been found after Tusla’s new service delivery framework had been put in place.

However, the Impact trade union said the files were not “unidentified” and claimed senior management within the agency had been made repeatedly aware of their existence over a number of years. Impact assistant general secretary Denis Rohan said the files had been “part of the statistical returns” social workers made on a monthly basis and the reason they had not been fully attended to was due to a failure to provide cover for staff on maternity leave alongside an increased demand for child and family services.

Tusla said yesterday: “While all referrals, some of which dated back to 1998, had received some level of attention, the standard file management procedures had not been followed.”

Laois/Offaly already had a backlog of 500 cases awaiting allocation when the additional files were discovered.

Tusla is currently piloting the National Child Care Information System, an IT system for tracking and recording child welfare cases, in the Midwest which, pending a review, will be rolled out nationally.

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