Child welfare referrals rise to 41,600

The number of referrals to social services on foot of child protection and welfare concerns almost doubled to 41,600 in seven years.

Child welfare referrals rise to 41,600

Nearly half of these (19,407) flagged child protection concerns, where there were grounds to believe there was a risk of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect. The figure for 2013 is more than twice what it was in 2006 (9,461).

Another 22,192 related to concerns for a child’s welfare, a 91% increase in the seven-year period. In 2006, the figure stood at 11,579.

The figures are contained in Tusla’s Review of Adequacy for 2013 and are based on a longitudinal analysis of its data since 2006.

The report highlights a number of shortcomings in the State’s response.

While social workers are expected to conduct a “preliminary inquiry” within 24 hours of a referral, the timeframe was not met nationally in one third of child protection cases and in nearly two in five (38%) child welfare cases. Referrals generally come from professionals such as GPs and teachers who have a concern about the child’s safety or welfare.

Asked by the Irish Examiner how many social worker vacancies there are in Tusla, the agency said 163 posts “were being progressed for filling”.

The State’s performance was even worse in the next step of the assessment process, known as “initial assessment”. This is supposed to be conducted within 21 working days and it informs the decision on whether to involve child protection services if there is suspected child abuse, or family support services if it is a welfare case, or to close the case if no further action is required.

Just 18% (2,039) of the 11,558 child protection cases referred onwards underwent initial assessment within 21 days. The figure was just 16% of 9,492 welfare cases.

The Irish Examiner asked Tusla if there had been any improvement in meeting these targets since 2013. Tusla said there had been a 2% improvement in 2014 in the number of initial assessments carried out on time in relation to both child protection and child welfare concerns.

Tusla said in the review that, in Dublin Mid-Leinster, there was “no capacity for the monitoring of foster care services” and that, in the West, there would “continue to be challenges in fulfilling statutory inspections in that area into 2014”.

Asked if the situation had improved, Tusla said since the establishment of the Child and Family Agency in January 2014, “the monitoring of foster care is now carried on a national basis and so all areas are covered”.

Tusla pointed out that Hiqa also regularly inspects foster care services.

The review also shows:

  • The number of children in care who experienced three or more placements in a single year was 150. Tusla said this represented just 2% of all children in care and was lower than UK figures;
  • There were 4,023 children aged 12 and under in care, as of the end of December 2013;
  • 2,474 children were in care for more than five years;
  • The local area with the highest number of children in care was Cork North Lee (503). Asked why this might be, Tusla said certain areas “may have higher numbers of children in care as a result of a variety of complex issues including levels of deprivation and other socioeconomic factors”.

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said they knew there were resource problems in Tusla, that, “from the moment it was established” it “has not been given the tools to do the job”.

“It needed a supplementary estimate last year, and probably will again this year, just to stand still,” said Mr Finlay.

“We know that Tusla has submitted a business plan to the Minister [for Children James Reilly] to ensure it is operating from a proper base.

“If that plan is properly funded, we would expect all waiting lists to be eliminated. But if it isn’t properly funded in this year’s budget, the crisis in child protection will continue to grow.”

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