Inspections watchdog Hiqa has expressed serious concern over the management of potential child sex abusers in Co Donegal and over some children at risk of harm not having a social worker.
The findings are included in a child protection and welfare report for the Donegal service area, which outlined how a lack of resources is hampering child welfare services in the county.
According to the report, there were waiting lists for assessments of alleged and convicted offenders who may pose a risk to children. “Although efforts were made to identify, assess and manage risks posed by alleged or convicted offenders in the community, early warning systems to identify organised abuse were not robust enough. Delayed risk assessments meant that immediate risks to children may not have been identified and managed by the service.”
Team leaders told inspectors that there was “minimal contact” between the social work department and probation services, and while the area did have access to an assessment service that carried out assessments on adults, this was a reduced service and waiting lists existed.
“One case showed that an assessment of one convicted offender was delayed for six months,” the report said. “Inspectors reviewed a number of adult cases awaiting an assessment and were concerned that the immediate risk to children was not known. One case did not demonstrate that potential organised abuse was considered. The Authority issued an immediate action plan to the area during the inspection period.”
The report also found that 15 children placed on the child protection notification system (CPNS) — already identified as being at potential risk of harm — were not allocated a social worker. This figure had reduced to nine at the time of the inspection.
In general Hiqa (the Health Information and Quality Authority) found many examples of good practice and good leadership in Donegal, but also found “the management team and staff struggled to manage the levels of risk within the service due to low staffing levels that affected several aspects of the service, particularly its capacity to allocate social workers to cases or to carry out assessments of children’s needs”.
The county had 968 cases open prior to the inspection, 379 of which were child protection cases and 589 were welfare cases. It had received 1,151 referrals in the year before the inspection and identified that 614 required initial assessments. The area had 79 children on the CPNS.
About 28% of the 297 initial assessments were not completed within the 20-day period expected by the Child and Family Agency, with “bottlenecks” at initial assessment stage attributed in part to “limited and stretched social work resources”.
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