A HIQA report has raised a number of concerns about child protection and welfare services in Cork.
The report revealed that some children are waiting more than six months for initial assessments to commence.
The Health Information and Quality Authority conducted its report on the child protection and welfare service operated by Tusla in the Cork area in July 2019. It assessed compliance with national standards relating to managing referrals to the point of completing an initial assessment.
HIQA found that of six standards assessed, one was compliant and five were moderately non-compliant.
In the twelve months prior to the inspection, the service area had experienced restructuring of social work teams and the introduction of the new National Child Care Information System, as well as a new national approach to child protection social work practice and a significant increase in the demands on the service since the introduction of mandatory reporting.
HIQA reported that the service area appropriately responded to children who were deemed to be at immediate and serious risk of harm. There was good cooperation between the social work teams and An Garda Síochána in taking protective action to ensure that children were safe.
However, inspectors found that social work interventions to protect and promote the safety and welfare of children who were not at immediate risk were not always timely.
There were good examples of interagency and inter-professional co-operation in the area. Effective measures were in place to divert families to external agencies where a welfare response was more appropriate.
In the majority of cases, referrals which met the threshold for a child protection and welfare service were prioritised and screened in a timely manner.
Inspections found that the quality of screening and preliminary enquiries "were not in adherence with Tusla's timeframes and not all referrals were clarified with the referrer where required."
Delays in the progression and completion of preliminary enquiries ranged from two weeks to five months.
"This posed a risk to the service as there were children who were awaiting a social work response to ensure their safety and welfare," HIQA stated in the report.
"Not all children were met as part of the initial assessment process which was not in line with good practice."
HIQA determined that improvements were required to ensure that initial assessments were undertaken in line with Tusla's standard business practice. It reported that not all children were met as part of the initial assessment process.
Safety planning was not fully embedded in practice, and managers told inspectors that a guidance document on safety planning was due to be disseminated by Tusla to staff.
Further progress was required in relation to formal one-to-one supervision of staff across the various grades so as to ensure good oversight and consistency of practice as well as the timeliness of interventions with children and families.
Inspectors found that accessing information relating to referrals on NCCIS in one social work office had progressed well: the office was paperless and the majority of cases were up to date.
However, there were challenges in getting referrals uploaded onto NCCIS for other social work teams due to increased and competing demands on administrative staff. Furthermore, issues relating to the quality and integrity of data on NCCIS impacted on the area’s ability to ensure adequate oversight of information pertaining to children.