No social workers for Cork children at risk

More than 230 children in Cork assessed as being at high risk of harm, did not have an allocated social worker.

A new report also raises serious concerns over a continuing risk posed to children by some alleged abusers.

A Hiqa report into child protection and welfare services in the Cork area found more than one in four children, who had been the subject of a referral, did not have an allocated social worker.

It found 1,167 of 4,926 children had no allocated social worker, and of the unallocated cases, 234 were high priority, 790 were medium priority, and 143 were low priority status.

However, since the report was undertaken, a comprehensive action plan was submitted to Hiqa by the State’s child protection and welfare agency, Tusla, and all high- risk cases have been allocated a social worker.

Countrywide, recruitment for 193 social work posts is also under way.

The report had also highlighted shortcomings where allegations of retrospective abuse were made against adults. It said, in those situations, the service had not established the risks to all children who may have contact with an alleged abuser.

According to Hiqa, “due to the seriousness of these risks, the authority sought an immediate response from the area manager and requested that arrangements be put in place to address these risks through an immediate action plan”.

The Monitoring Inspection report assessed 27 standards. Apart from the two significant risks detected, just five of the standards were met in full with improvement needed in 19 other areas.

According to the report: “The effectiveness of the service was compromised due to the length of time it took for a social worker to be allocated to assess the needs of children and families and children could remain at risk while they waited for an assessment.”

The report also claims the service was not sufficiently resourced, had long waiting lists at point of receipt of referral and following the completion of an initial assessment, and that staff numbers were not sufficient to cope with the level of demand for the service. Some social workers were responsible for more than 100 cases.

Cases of retrospective abuse regarding people known to have a conviction of a sexual nature or suspected of same were not all assessed in line with Children First guidelines.

At the time of the inspection, there were 199 concerns of this nature across the service, but the number then increased to 316 shortly after the inspection, following a review by the principal social worker.

Responding to the report, Brian Lee, director of quality assurance in Tusla, said concerns forwarded to the service were appropriately prioritised and all concerns were screened, while children assessed as being at immediate risk of harm were assessed as high priority.

But he said: “Tusla accepts that there are a number of areas which require improvement.”

Jennifer Gargan, director of Empowering People In Care, said the report findings were “very worrying”.

She said with the placing of Children First on a statutory footing, it could lead to even more referrals.

“If they cannot cope at the moment, what would happen in the future,” she asked.

Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Seán Sherlock said he would be anxious to know how many of the 193 posts would be allocated to Cork.

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