Review of welfare files sparks concern

Children’s rights groups have reacted with concern to the news that a completed review of previously unattended-to child welfare files has found that at least 127 children in Laois/Offaly require immediate intervention.

It emerged yesterday that of the 743 files reviewed by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, 660 required the allocation of a social worker. Of those, 127 required “urgent attention”.

Given that many of the files — which were discovered in Tusla’s Portlaoise office just last month — date back 10 years or more, it has sparked alarm that some children in Laois and Offaly may have been living in vulnerable or abusive situations due to a lack of State intervention.

EPIC (Empowering People In Care) said findings from the Tusla review illustrated that the Child and Family Agency needed more resources, primarily social workers.

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Director of EPIC, Jennifer Gargan said: “The findings from the review highlight the need for the State to provide adequate resources to Tusla to ensure that no child is left in danger. Latest figures provided by Tusla indicate that there are currently 2,303 high-priority cases awaiting allocation across the country.

“Having a social worker is extremely important in terms of protecting vulnerable children, but also a vital component in facilitating children’s voices to be heard.

“Social workers should be receiving adequate supports and training in order to provide children with a quality social work service.”

Ms Gargan said this week marked the sixth anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report, but that many of the recommendations made in it to protect children have yet to be implemented.

The Ryan report identified the need for a national child care information system to be implemented for tracking child welfare cases, but while Tusla is currently piloting its National Child Care Information System in the mid-west, it has yet to be rolled out nationally.

The Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) said the situation highlighted how social workers had been struggling with increasing caseloads.

However, IASW spokesman Donal O’Malley said: “It is unthinkable really — a referral had been made, and a concern highlighted was not followed up on. Nobody could stand over that in any shape or form.”

But he said he was also fearful of “scapegoating individuals over system failures” and added that it was “too easy to start pointing the finger” at Tusla over issues in the system when some of them were inherited.

Mr O’Malley said the IASW was not privy to the details as to why the files had not been acted on up to now but said: “It highlights the concerns that we have had with regard to the levels of social workers in Tusla and the fact that demands [on services] are increasing across the board with regard to the number of referrals.

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