Serious shortcomings in the Tusla's child protection and welfare service in Cork have been identified by the Health Services and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
Hiqa conducted a risk-based inspection of the service in Cork to assess compliance with the national standards relating to children considered to be at risk of significant harm.
The inspection was conducted over three days in January this year when there were 105 children in Cork listed on the child protection notification system (CPNS).
The CPNS contains a record of all children in the State assessed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm.
Of the five standards inspected in the Cork service area, four were identified as major non-compliances, while one was described as “moderately” non-compliant.
Of particular concern was an inconsistency in the quality of service provided to children on the CPNS with some remaining at risk.
Hiqa found that governance arrangements in place for the CPNS required strengthening.
Improvements were also required in the oversight of cases, staff supervision, the review of complex cases and inter-agency arrangements, particularly where children had a disability or mental health issues.
In September 2019, Hiqa received a copy of a local review undertaken in the Cork service area, one of 17 managed by Tusla, in response to a serious incident relating to a child on the CPNS.
After reviewing the report, Hiqa sought assurances from the Cork service manager about all the children on the system.
Hiqa undertook an inspection of the Cork service area because it was unhappy with the response.
The area manager told inspectors there were challenges in getting legal orders for children, implementing the Tusla national approach to practise to ensure children were safe, and delays in replacing social workers.
Inspectors found the quality of social work supervision on individual cases was “mixed” and lacked “sufficient rigour”.
They reviewed a case where a social work team leader highlighted the positive engagement of parents with child protection plans despite inspectors finding evidence of a lack of parent engagement with the service.
The area manager acknowledged that the quality of recording of supervision needed to be improved to show what action was taken and progress made since the previous supervision.
Inspectors found that two serious incident reviews undertaken in the area were inadequate and that opportunities to learn from them had been missed.
Risk management relating to children on the CPNS was poor. Also, risks that had been identified did not have measures put in place to mitigate against them.
Responding, Tusla said they had addressed and improved the “technical parts” of the system. They had also improved supervision, monitoring and governance and regular audits of cases on the CPNS had started.
A computer update had been made so cases on the system for a particular time or needing follow-up are automatically flagged.