Some issues surrounding staff oversight and record-keeping have been noted in an otherwise positive HIQA report on the child protection and welfare service provided in Tusla's Dublin South East/Wicklow area.
The inspection of the Dublin South East/Wicklow area took place between February 10 and 13 before the Covid-19 outbreak. It focused on referrals to Tusla in relation to children protection and welfare and the initial assessments completed by the agency's staff. As part of their visit, inspectors spoke with children and families, met with social workers and senior management and carried out a reviews of data including children's files and staff records.
The Tusla Dublin South East/Wicklow area covers the Garden County, excluding West Wicklow. There are two intake and assessment teams in the area with one covering Dublin and the other focused on Wicklow.
The report judged the Tusla area to be 'substantially compliant' in three areas, meaning some improvements were required to meet the regulations. These included quality assurance systems, staff oversight, implementation of processes for screening and initial assessment,
One area were determined to be 'partially compliant' with the regulations. This meant inspectors felt that improvements were needed to meet the regulations and avoid risk to children.This was the area of recruitment practices,
The inspectors noted that the children interviewed spoke positively about having a social worker and the support received. However, children also highlighted the impact on them of staff changes.
The inspectors also spoke with three parents who were described as mostly positive about the support received from social workers. Parents described social workers as 'approachable', 'non-judgemental' and 'understanding'. Of the three parents interviewed, the inspector said two welcomed the help from the social worker.
The report noted, 'at the time of inspection, inspectors found the service area to be proactive and responsive from the point of initial reporting of a concern to Tusla, through to the completion of an initial assessment'.
Inspectors found 'significant progress had been made to ensure children and families received a better service' from the Tusla area. The report noted that local planning had taken place in January 2020 with 'clear actions identified'.
Tusla area management had completed a self-assessment of their performance before the inspection and the HIQA inspectors said they agreed with the management team's conclusions. Initiatives had already been put in place to improve compliance with standards for the service. The HIQA report stated the management team were 'highly motivated' and the area manager had significant experience in management roles. They also found the social workers to be 'competent and knowledgable'. However, they expressed a concern that the frequency of staff supervision was not in line with the agency's standards and it was felt some improvement could be made in this area.
The principal social worker for the area had retired before the date of the inspection and the new postholder was not due to take up their role until after the Tusla visit.
The report highlighted that a quality assessment plan had not been finalised by senior management, though inspectors acknowledged 'evidence of improvements in some areas' were identified during their visit.
In relation to record-keeping, the inspectors felt that not all relevant information was uploaded to the National Child Care Information System (NCCIS) in a timely manner and felt some improvements could be made by the service. The inspectors noted this had been highlighted by an audit report in June 2019 and while actions had been taken, 'not all records were contemporaneous to ensure that a true reflection of the work undertaken by social workers was clearly demonstrated'.
The HIQA inspectors said that Tusla's own national monitoring team had carried out a follow-up audit in November 2019 which showed that the area had made progress towards ensuring compliance with the regulations,
The inspectors also noted that risks were being monitored to reduce their impact on service provision. In particular, the inspectors highlighted there were vacant social worker posts in the Wicklow area could affect cases waiting for an initial assessment or allocation to a social worker. Agency staff were used to fill the gaps and the inspectors felt the service was 'adequately resourced' at the time of the inspection.
Inspectors noted that the area manager had aligned the service with the national approach 'by prioritising "the front door" of the service so as to ensure good quality screening and preliminary enquiries to be undertaken. This in turn had resulted in a reduction in wait lists for cases awaiting allocation and a decline in the number of cases open to social work.'
The report noted that no staff had 'unmanageable caseloads' at the time of inspection.
In relation to service quality assurance systems, the inspectors identified some improvements were needed to comply with the national standards. Inspectors also determined improvements were needed in the area of staff recruitment practices to resolve gaps in documentation including employment history, qualifications and references.
Waiting lists for allocation of a social worker had reduced which resulted in an improved service for children and families. The report also identifed 'evidence of good practice' in the initial assessment processes, but it was felt that there was space for improvements in the area of safety planning.
The report noted good communication and engagement between social workers and children and families. They also noted that child-friendly approaches and spaces were used by Tusla staff. This included the development of a child-friendly website by the local service. However, the inspectors felt that obtaining feedback from children about the service could be a challenge, particularly if the child may have only briefly met the social worker for an assessment. Inspectors said they observed social workers prioritising referrals judged to be urgent and noted there was positive collaboration between social workers and gardai to ensure child safety.
The inspectors noted that there was a delay in the completion of some intake records due to limited engagement from families or criminal investigations, but felt that these reports included 'good quality analysis'. They noted that the records did not always include the reason for the delay.
The inspectors found assessments to be of 'a high standard' and reflective of the outcomes of the assessment process, but determined some improvements were needed in the process.
In a statement, Tusla said it had noted the publication of the HIQA report which highlighted 'many positive aspects of the child protection and welfare service in Dublin South East/Wicklow'. The statement went on to highlight that HIQA had determined 'children were protected through good practice relating to the screening, preliminary enquiry and initial assessment processes' and 'there was good cooperation between the social work teams and An Garda Síochána in taking protective action to ensure that children were safe'.'
'HIQA also identified areas for improvement, including further progress in ensuring the consistent monitoring and review of safety plans for children, and improvements on recruitment practices to ensure that the appropriates copies of references were on file. Work is underway to make the improvements required,' the statement said.
Joanne Cullen, Area Manager, Dublin South East/Wicklow said: 'we are pleased that the area was found by the inspectors to have high levels of compliance with the standards assessed. In particular, we are pleased that the inspection highlighted the child-centred, open and transparent approach which is taken in the area to encourage the child and family's engagement with the service. We will continue to improve and maintain our services so that the children and families in the areas receive a timely and effective service.'
The Dublin South East/Wicklow area was one of four inspected by HIQA and the reports of these inspections were published last week.
Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O'Gorman also welcomed the publication of the inspection reports.
In a statement, Ministor O'Gorman noted 'the challenges for social workers working in this area, as parents whose children are referred to Tusla are usually experience serious personal problems and may not wish to engage with child protection services however he said that "is essential that all parents and children are treated respectfully and offered services to meet their needs". HIQA identified the need for a sufficient number of well supported social workers to undertake this important function and said his Department was engaged with Tusla and other stakeholders on this matter.'