Child Protection and Welfare Services are still affected by staff shortages in the South-East, two years after Tusla flagged it as an issue.
A report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) on the Child Protection and Welfare Service operated by the Child and Family Agency in the Waterford/Wexford service area found there were 279 cases on a waiting list for child protection and welfare services with 118 of these between the point of referral and initial assessment.
It said 31 cases were awaiting allocation for initial assessment and were considered high priority.
Risks relating to waiting lists in the area were cited as “posing a risk to the safety, wellbeing and welfare of those children, due to insufficient capacity to meet the existing levels of demand for Child Protection and welfare services as a direct result of staff shortages.” There was also a high number of vacant posts resulting in a shortage of permanent staff in the area.
According to the report: "The risks within the area relating to staff shortages and vacant posts had been included on the areas risk register in April of 2018 and reviewed regularly, however, progress was slow. Plans relating to engagement with third-level colleges specifically aimed as recruitment for this service area, have been highlighted by the area manager since early 2019. However, they remain in planning stage at the time of this inspection."
Efforts were being made to address vacancies but the report said: "Equally risks relating to waiting lists in the area cited as '….posing a risk to the safety, wellbeing and welfare of those children, due to insufficient capacity to meet the existing levels of demand for Child Protection and welfare services as a direct result of staff shortages' inputted on the risk register in April 2018 and escalated as required remains the highest risk and unchanged at the time of inspection."
The service area reported 10 vacant social work posts and 2.2 vacant social care posts within the child protection and welfare service.
According to Hiqa: "Due to the number of vacant social worker posts the service area did not ensure all children received a safe, timely and effective service. While there were some alternative services put in place in an effort to address risks associated with staff vacancies, these were not fully effective."
At the time of the inspection last August, six standards were assessed - two were compliant, two were substantially compliant and two were partially compliant.
Hiqa found clear governance structures in place and said staff were delivering a good quality child protection and welfare service that was responsive to children’s needs.
However, improvements were required in areas such as risk management, data management and safety planning for children awaiting assessment.
There were delays in completion of preliminary enquiries in just over half of all referrals (52%) and only 19% of all initial assessments were completed in line with standard business processes and delays in notifications of suspected abuse to An Garda Síochána.
*The report can be read here.