CHILDREN have been left at serious risk of harm due to failures by social services in the south-east to properly investigate possible cases of abuse and neglect.
A damning inspectors' report into HSE child-protection services in Carlow and Kilkenny uncovered a catalogue of poor practices that put children in danger.
While overall the services provided to children were safe, around 40pc of the staff were not vetted by gardai, the report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) revealed.
The findings showed:
• Gardai were not always notified of suspected physical, sexual abuse or neglect of a child. Some "informal" contacts with gardai about suspicions were made but they were not always recorded.
• Delays also emerged in assessing children who were referred to them and a waiting list had built up with risks in the way this was managed.
• Inspectors were informed by duty team leaders of 178 referrals that were held on the duty list awaiting or in the process of initial assessment. The potential risks associated with some of these referrals were not known.
A child referred to social services should be screened within 24 hours and an initial assessment needs to take place within 20 days.
Inspectors said they were concerned that the outcome for some children could be poor as critical decisions may be delayed.
In the year prior to the November inspection, 1,156 children were referred to the service and 644 initial assessments were recommended. Just 56 were completed in the recommended timeframe.
The report noted the lack of a quality assurance process to ensure decisions focused on safety and did not leave children at risk. Children also had to be placed on waiting lists for allocation to a social worker, the inspectors found.
Case conferences to discuss a child were delayed because a chairperson was not always available even though the young person was identified as being at risk.
They also found that the records on all children who were deemed to have unresolved child protection issues – including neglect – were not always accurate or up to date.
Around 40pc of the staff file did not contain the requisite garda vetting. These files were on longstanding members of staff, including some of the management team.
Responding to the report, Dermot Halpin, head of child services at the HSE South, said an action plan was now in place to address the problems which were highlighted.
Asked why, of the 27 standards, just 18 were met in part and nine were breached entirely, he said: "The standards were announced at the middle of last year." He said internal monitoring was under way.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she welcomed the report but acknowledged there was considerable room for improvement.