Children’s services publication statement 11 November 2019

Date of publication:

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published an inspection report on the Child Protection and Welfare Service operated by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Cork service area.

HIQA is authorised by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs under Section 8(1)(c) of the Health Act 2007, to monitor the quality of services provided by Tusla to protect children and promote their welfare. HIQA monitors the performance of Tusla against the National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children and advises the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla.

HIQA conducted a themed inspection of the child protection and welfare service in Cork in July 2019. This themed inspection aimed to assess compliance with the national standards relating to managing referrals to the point of completing an initial assessment.

In this inspection, HIQA found that of the six standards assessed:

  • one was compliant
  • five were moderately non-compliant.

In the 12 months prior to the inspection, the service area had faced challenges with the restructuring of some of the social work teams, the introduction of the new National Child Care Information System (NCCIS), the introduction of a new national approach to child protection social work practice and a significant increase in the demands on the service since the introduction of mandatory reporting.  Despite these challenges, there was good staff morale and staff were positive about the supports they received from their managers.

The service area appropriately responded to children who were deemed to be at immediate and serious risk of harm. There was good cooperation between the social work teams and An Garda Síochána in taking protective action to ensure that children were safe. However, inspectors found that social work interventions to protect and promote the safety and welfare of children who were not at immediate risk were not always timely. 

There were good examples of interagency and inter-professional co-operation in the area. Effective measures were in place to divert families to external agencies where a welfare response was more appropriate.

There were systems in place for notifying An Garda Síochána of allegations of abuse, and the majority of notifications were being sent as required under Children First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 and in line with the joint working protocol for An Garda Síochána and Tusla.

In the majority of cases, referrals which met the threshold for a child protection and welfare service were prioritised and screened in a timely manner. Inspectors found that the quality of screening and preliminary enquiries were not in adherence with Tusla’s timeframes and not all referrals were clarified with the referrer where required. Delays in the progression and completion of preliminary enquiries ranged from two weeks to five months from receipt of referral; this posed a risk to the service as there were children who were awaiting a social work response to ensure their safety and welfare.

Improvements were required in order to ensure that initial assessments were undertaken promptly and in line with Tulsa’s standard business process. Not all children were met as part of the initial assessment process, which is not in line with good practice.

Safety planning was not fully embedded in practice, and managers told inspectors that a guidance document on safety planning was due to be disseminated by Tusla to staff. Not all children who required a safety plan had one in place, and, where they were in place, they were not consistently reviewed in order to monitor their effectiveness. 

Not all operational risks were set out in the risk register. While unallocated cases were identified as a risk, the service area continued to have waiting lists and there was no strategic plan to effectively address this. The risks associated with delays of casework and the service’s non-compliance with Tusla’s own standard business process for the management of referrals was not afforded adequate priority and action on the risk register.

Further progress was required in relation to formal one-to-one supervision of staff across the various grades so as to ensure good oversight and consistency of practice as well as the timeliness of interventions with children and families. 

Inspectors found that accessing information relating to referrals on NCCIS in one social work office had progressed well: the office was paperless and the majority of cases were up to date. However, there were challenges in getting referrals uploaded onto NCCIS for other social work teams due to increased and competing demands on administrative staff. Furthermore, issues relating to the quality and integrity of data on NCCIS impacted on the area’s ability to ensure adequate oversight of information pertaining to children.