Hiqa inspectors forced to fast-track 10 possible child abuse cases with Tusla
Ten potential cases of child abuse had to be fast-tracked by inspectors during a routine visit of the State child and family agency in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary last winter.
In some of these cases, children were not seen by social workers or given "adequate safety plans" following disclosures of allegations of physical abuse.
In other cases, some children who were the subject of "repeat referrals to the service" were not given top priority to be assigned a social worker.
Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found Tusla's Child Protection and Welfare unit was "moderately non-compliant" in five out of six standards.
This was during an announced inspection of the agency over four days last January, according to a Hiqa inspection report published yesterday.
While inspectors found "good examples of immediate action taken for (33) children who presented at risk of immediate harm and whom required urgent care and protection", they expressed concern that social workers did not act in a timely manner in another 10 cases of suspected child abuse and neglect.
"Inspectors escalated a total of 10 cases during this inspection in order to seek immediate action where they was a potential risk to children," the report stated.
Tusla has a goal aiming for a five-day turnaround between an outside referral to the agency, and an initial assessment by a social worker. But in some cases "delay in the progression and completion of preliminary enquiries ranged from two to 11 months", the inspectors found.
Four of six of the escalated cases - where initial assessments had not been initiated or completed within six to 11 months of referral - "were referrals which were deemed to be high priority physical or sexual abuse allegations", the report found. "This is a concern," the inspectors noted.
They also found that "measures to safeguard children who remained at home with their families required improvement".
"The process of agreeing, developing and reviewing safety plans was evolving in the area. Inspectors could not determine any standardised system of review of safety plans or structured time frames for the monitoring of their effectiveness," the report found.
The inspection was on foot of a previous one conducted in September 2017 in which Hiqa found five out of six standards were "majorly non-compliant". Among the concerns noted over the governance and management of the unit at the time was "an absence of effective measures to address known risks".
But inspectors did find improvements made in the screening stage during the most recent visit.
Meanwhile, Dermot Halpin, Tusla service director, said in a statement: "We accept the findings of this report and acknowledgment that Tusla has made important headway in implementing a range of measures to reform child protection and welfare services in the area.
"This inspection report provides us with important additional measurement and oversight to supplement the work already done internally, in identifying deficiencies in the service area. It also assists us with ensuring that our child protection and welfare services operate at the highest possible standard."