Vulnerable children put ‘needlessly at risk’

Nine out of every 10 child abuse and child welfare referrals to social services are failing to meet strict government assessment targets in an area that has seen two children die in recent months.

A major inspection report by the Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) has warned the situation, in Cork’s North Lee area, is putting vulnerable children needlessly at risk.

The detailed document said despite the fact the 2011 Children First guidelines insist all new cases must undergo an initial check within 20 days, child abuse and welfare cases are instead witnessing months of “long delays”.

The February inspection found 90.2% of alleged child abuse and 91.5% of child welfare cases in the area — which stretches from Macroom to Youghal — were failing to meet the target.

The report noted that at times inadequate social services responses to cases were further hampering the situation in a location that had seen two children at the centre of welfare concerns die since Feb 2011.

It warned that at-risk children were not being assigned a social worker for more than a year.

“There are significant delays for those children at a medium-to-low risk of harm or neglect. The system in place does not facilitate timely child protection and the formulation and review of important child protection plans,” the Hiqa report, which can be read at irishexaminer.com, warned.

Among the key concerns raised by the inspection team, and by the managers and social workers they met, are:

* Managers said of the service’s €48m budget this year, €6m “would need to be cut” because of wider HSE overspending — a 12.5% reduction;

* The “increasing volume of referrals” to the service means the “limited number of staff available” cannot “provide prompt social work intervention”;

* The area’s child protection notification system (CPNS) is not being “used effectively”;

* The area manager and senior social workers said the threshold for registering children with the CPNS was too high, while a hard copy of the names of children in the system was given to gardaí — risking an accidental leak;

* At the time of the inspection, 51 medium-to-low risk children referred to social services had no social worker, including 32 waiting over a year for the support;

* Staff resources are “not sufficient to meet the demands of the service”.

The inspection team said while the area’s service was managing to provide timely care in the majority of cases, it was suffering from significant shortfalls that risked the wellbeing of 1,661 children depending on the service.

There were similar concerns about Cavan-Monaghan, with 512 children referred waiting months for any assessment. The figure includes 13 at the centre of sexual abuse concerns waiting over a year for a second check-up.


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