Tusla failed to report suspected abuse cases to Gardaí in service area which includes Carlow

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Darren Hassett

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Darren Hassett

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news@carlowlive.ie

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Tusla, the State's Child and Family Agency, has acknowledged the publication of the HIQA child protection and welfare inspection report for the Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary area.

The report, published on Tuesday, found that child protection and welfare services in the Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary area failed to notify Gardaí about every allegation of suspected abuse and neglect it received.

"The system in place for ensuring that all allegations of suspected abuse were notified by social workers to An Garda Síochána also required improvement and there were examples where notifications had not been sent as required," the report said. 

This is one of a number of criticisms made in a report by the Health Information and Quality Authority following an announced inspection in January.

Others were that cases awaiting allocation following allegations of physical abuse against children did not have adequate safety plans and or children were not seen by social workers.

Children on the waitlist for assessment, who were the subject of repeat referrals to the service, were not always prioritised for allocation to a social worker. 

The report added: "There was an under reporting of allegations of abuse from the child protection and welfare service to An Garda Siochana."

Inspectors reviewed 29 cases where a notification was required in incidents relating to physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

Inspectors found that the system in place to ensure that all relevant information was notified was not strong enough.

In eight of the 29 cases reviewed, or 27%, there was no evidence of this notification on file and three of these cases were escalated during inspection due to potential risk to children.

Dermot Halpin, Service Director, Tusla said: "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."

Marie Kennedy, Area Manager, Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Tusla said: "The HIQA report highlighted many examples of very good practice and acknowledged that where a child was at immediate risk, they received an immediate protective response."

There are a number of initiatives already completed, or underway, in the area such as:
• The development of a dedicated screening team to ensure greater consistency of approach and practice across the area. Over 4000 referrals were received in 2018. 
• Improved screening and preliminary enquiry assessment methods, allowing for more comprehensive screening of cases and immediate identification of risk. 90% of cases were screened within 24 hours in line with policy. 
• Implementation of the National Child Care Information System (NCCIS) which ensures the social work department has a robust, secure information system to support the delivery and oversight of effective child protection and welfare services as well as informing decision making;
• Improved inter-agency cooperation – greater communication and working between Prevention, Partnership and Family Support (PPFS), Tusla’s early-intervention service and the child protection and welfare service; and 
• Implementation of Signs of Safety to ensure that children and families receive a consistent, proportionate and timely service.

She added: "We fully acknowledge there are areas for improvement and Tusla remains committed to improving the care and safeguarding of children in Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary and all other children in our care.

"In conjunction with HIQA, we have created and have been implementing an action plan to address the deficits identified and have put in place a governance and oversight group to track progress on the action plan."

Tusla is committed to implementing the required actions to improve compliance with the national standards and has put the following measures in place to improve services in the area:
• An area governance oversight group has been established to focus on service review and to drive improvement;
• A new quality auditing system has been implemented in the area to review and monitor progress against action plans. It also supports ongoing implementation of policy;
• The roll-out of bespoke recruitment campaigns to address current staff vacancies at all grades to ensure consistent level of staffing across the area;
• Appointment of an additional Principal Social Worker for Child Protection and Welfare;
• A new workforce strategy will be piloted in the area which will focus on building multidisciplinary teams and strengthening administrative and business supports with the aim of reducing wait lists and unallocated cases;
• Further workshops will be held between the Gardaí and Tusla to review Operation of the Joint Working Protocol; and
• A new business process for monitoring preliminary enquiries has been implemented which involves fortnightly reviews and quarterly audits of cases.