Children remain at risk in some services and Tusla continues to face several key challenges, the Health Information and Quality Authority has warned.
There were 5,291 children known to the child protection and welfare services still waiting to be allocated a social worker at the end of last year, with 653 deemed high priority.
The authority's 2019 report on the inspection and regulation of children's services shows that one in five (21%) of the 24,827 children were without a social worker.
Also, 482 of the 5,461 children living in foster care did not have a social worker allocated to their case.
There were backlogs in child-in-care reviews and a high number of care plans were not up to date. The quality of care plans varied and placement plans were not routinely completed in some areas.
There were also delays in screening, preliminary enquiries and initial assessments.
“There was no national approach being taken by Tusla to manage waiting lists for children and families awaiting a service from Tusla,” says Hiqa's director of regulation and chief inspector of social services, Mary Dunnion.
“Risks in some children's services remain and, without doubt, Tusla continued to face a number of key challenges,” says Ms Dunnion.
The challenges mainly relate to the pace of implementing a workforce strategy that both involves attracting more social workers and retaining current staff.
Hiqa found “marked improvements" across many of the children's residential centres to ensure they were safe and effective but the quality of key systems such as monitoring and oversight, quality assurance and risk management differed in several service areas and needed to improve.
Risk-based inspections of child protection and welfare services found differences in the quality and timeliness of the services that children and their families received.
“While some centres had good quality assurances systems in place, they did not always result in improvements in practice,” says Ms Dunnion.
“Despite this, such findings do not necessarily mean that children experienced poor quality care in their day-to-day lives."
For the most part, children experienced being cared for in a way that made them feel valued and significant to those responsible for their care and development.
Tusla says the greatest challenge facing the agency is consistency and it is a central part of the agency's reform agenda.
Referring to the recruitment challenge, Tusla points out that 408 former agency workers recently converted to Tusla staff and the roles include social work, social care, family support and administrative.
Tusla chief executive, Bernard Gloster, says the report identifies and re-enforces their assessment of the many challenges they have to deal with but it also recognises the good work being done.