Delays of up to 10 months in Tusla staff notifying suspected child abuse cases to gardaí have been identified in a new report.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) reviewed 12 of 17 of the child and family agency’s service areas in Ireland and while overall standards and progress were found to be high, some concerns were identified.
Published on Wednesday, the overview report found that improvements are required in the “completion and timeliness” of notifications of suspected abuse by Tusla staff to gardaí.
“Delays in notifying the Gardaí were found in eight service areas, with delays ranging from four weeks in three service areas and up to 10 months in two service areas,” Hiqa said. “The reasons for these delays were not always recorded or clear from the files of the children in question.”
However, inspectors said all service areas took immediate action in emergency situations to protect and promote the safety of children, and the quality of completed preliminary enquiries “was generally good”.
The review, focusing on child protection and welfare services, was carried out between 2019 and April, 2021 and included interviews with 65 children and 110 parents.
Inspections focused on the point of initial contact or reporting of a concern to Tusla, through to the completion of an initial assessment. Overall, children and parents spoke positively about their experiences.
“They told us about the positive relationships they had with social workers, how social workers engaged with them, listened to them and improved their lives,” the report said.
“We also heard from a small number of children and parents who had less positive experiences. They told us of the negative impact that changes to their social worker had on them.”
Among those concerns were social workers who “could be better at listening to them”.
Hiqa’s head of children’s services Eva Boyle said staff vacancies were a challenge across the majority of service areas with permanent vacancies in eight out of 12.
Inspectors noted “gaps” in key staff documentation including references and photo IDs. Assurances were sought from management in the Kerry and Cavan/Monaghan areas that safe recruitment practices, specifically vetting, were in place.
Hiqa also reported a need for greater oversight of waiting lists used by Tusla, which indicated that children and families were not always receiving a “timely service”.
“If not managed appropriately, waiting lists become a significant risk to children and families who may not be assessed or receive the right service at the right time,” the report said.
Overall, the inspection programme found eight service areas to be fully compliant and the remaining four substantially compliant in how they communicated with children and families.
However, areas of service provision where improvements were deemed necessary included adherence to timelines in commencing and completing preliminary enquiries and initial assessment of cases; consistency in monitoring cases awaiting allocation to a social worker; and the timely recording and uploading of children’s records to the National Child Care Information System (NCCIS).