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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Probe finds major social work staffing issues left Ireland's most vulnerable children at risk

Written by Rebecca Black

Some of Ireland's most vulnerable children were potentially placed at risk due to major system failures within the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), an investigation has found.

The failings were found by the Health, Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to have stemmed from a gap between national Tusla policy and what was actually happening on the ground.

The probe was ordered by Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone after an administrative error in a Tusla file led to a false sex abuse allegation being made against high profile Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Following its investigation, the HIQA also found major staffing issues at Tusla of not enough social workers, and no workforce strategy in place to address the shortages.

Just months into the investigation, three risks were detected which caused such concern that they were immediately escalated to Tusla and the Department for Children and Youth Affairs to be addressed.

Those were issues with screening and preliminary inquiries, safety planning and management of retrospective cases.

The HIQA investigation found inconsistences around the screening of allegations of children sexual abuse and making preliminary inquiries which meant not all children at potential risk were being assessed, and/or protected by Tusla in a timely and effective manner.

There were also inconsistencies found in safety planning practises by Tusla for children which meant that some children were adequately safeguarded, while others at potential risk were not.

In terms of management of retrospective cases, a variation of practises were found, some people were not told that an allegation had been made against them and others were given only limited information.

Just one of the failings uncovered by the HIQA was that Tusla and the Garda did not share information electronically.

Instead they communicated via fax or post, which the HIQA found was "neither efficient, appropriate nor wholly secure".

The HIQA has made four main recommendations for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and for Tusla, in addition to other actions which Tusla must urgently take.

Mary Dunnion, HIQA's director of regulation, said the concerns must be urgently addressed.

"Tusla must now ensure that it now urgently addresses the systemic deficiencies identified by HIQA in its governance and support arrangements," she said.

"This is necessary to ensure the effective and sustainable management of child sexual abuse referrals involving adults of concern, including where adults alleged they were abused as children."

Ms Dunnion (pictured) added political commitment was needed to address the issues raised.

"To inform the development of regulation of children's social services in Ireland, HIQA will assist the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in reviewing international best practice in this area.

"Given the significant system-wide recommendations outlined in this report, it will be vital that there is the necessary political commitment to their managed implementation in order to promote sustainable improvements in the quality and safety of all child protection and welfare services."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Brian Lawless / PA Wire.