700 files of at-risk children date back five years
Some of the 700 children's files discovered during an audit of protection and welfare social services in the Midlands date back five years, it has emerged.
A review is under way to discover if all the vulnerable children referred to in the files held by social services in Laois and Offaly have been properly dealt with and responded to.
The discovery of the previously unidentified files was made by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency which took over responsibility for protection and welfare from the HSE last year.
Tusla chief executive Gordon Jeyes said a new principal social worker appointed to the area informed the agency of the files last week. They involve 700 "previously unidentified files".
They also include 822 unacknowledged referrals of child cases to the HSE from gardaí.
Child cases who are notified to social services are prioritised - and in some cases are referred on to other agencies which are regarded as more suitable. It is unclear if these files fall into this category.
Child advocacy groups feared last night that the discovery is not unique to Laois and Offaly, and may also have happened in other areas.
Mr Jeyes said: "As an immediate action to address this issue a comprehensive review of all 700 files will be completed by May 8 to ascertain which require further work by a social worker.
"I have sought and have been assured by Tusla that all necessary measures to deal comprehensively with the situation have been, or are being, put in place. My immediate priority is to ensure that no child is at risk of harm. I consider it appropriate that this matter is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity.
"I have been provided last evening with details of Tusla's action plan to deal with the issues that have been identified and will be meeting again tomorrow with Tusla to review progress in ensuring that all necessary actions are taken without delay."
Tusla is being assisted in this process by two external, independent child care experts.
He added: "Tusla is committed to working closely with An Garda Síochána and other partners in this area.
"I will consider, in due course, if an independent investigation is warranted into this matter, including the circumstances that gave rise to the unassessed backlog of referrals and to include the lessons to be learned to ensure that such a situation is not repeated."