Health watchdog Hiqa has said staffing across some Tusla services is still a concern, with Covid-19 bringing additional complications in some areas, while there are still not enough foster carers available in much of the country.
The Health Information and Quality Authority published its overview report on the inspection and regulation of children’s services last year, outlining significant improvements in many areas, but ongoing issues in others.
The report analyses service provision across children's service, including foster care, in which the vast majority of children who are not with their immediate families are placed.
According to the report: "Although there were insufficient numbers of foster carers in five of the six service areas, matching processes were in place which attempted to match children to foster carers who had the capacity to meet their assessed needs.
It said backlogs of long-term matching of children with their foster carers were reported in the majority (five) of the areas inspected.
"Staffing resources and how available resources were managed remained a challenge for most services. Under-resourced or — in the opinion of inspectors — poorly managed resources resulted in pockets of inconsistent practice, lack of continuous adherence to processes prescribed by Tusla, and an inability to allocate a social worker or hold child-in-care reviews for each child."
Hiqa also referred to shortages in terms of Tusla staff.
Regarding residential centres, it said: "There were, however, centres that experienced staffing shortages through vacant posts and/or staff restricting their movements as a precaution or self-isolating as a result of contracting Covid-19.
"Although the use of agency staff was widespread across the country, there were times when this resource was not available.
"While staffing shortages did not result in the interruption of services, it did bring about a reduction in the number of placements available in a small number of centres."
As for the three special care centres, Hiqa said: "Resourcing special care units with suitably qualified and skilled staff, and retaining these staff, has been an ongoing challenge for Tusla. On a positive note, however, this had improved."
Hiqa said there had been improvements in many areas of children's services last year, and also highlighted efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19, such as in one special care unit that experienced an outbreak: "The unit responded well to this outbreak and this ensured there were no interruptions to service delivery, and the spread of the virus was curtailed."
On staffing levels overall, it said: "While there had been significant improvements in filling vacant social work posts, significant vacancies remained in some Tusla services, which was directly impacting on service delivery to children."
Hiqa received 258 notifications from Tusla relating to designated special care units last year, 44 notifications of serious incidents, including the deaths of children in care, and 71 pieces of unsolicited information from members of the public who had a concern about services mainly provided by Tusla.