HIQA carried out a risk-based inspection of the child protection and welfare services in the Dublin South West Kildare West Wicklow service area in April 2023. There was a high number of children referred to the child protection and welfare service who did not have an allocated social worker. The provider had given assurances to the Chief Inspector that the risks associated with this were being managed and the purpose of the inspection was to validate these assurances.
The service was found to be non-compliant with all three standards assessed against. HIQA found that there was a chronic shortfall in staffing resources to meet the demands of the service. There were gaps in the monitoring and oversight of waitlisted cases, including the completion of safety planning. Many children and families were waiting prolonged periods for preliminary enquiries and initial assessments to take place.
There were clearly defined governance arrangements and lines of accountability in the area and management was attempting to mitigate the risks in the area. However, they faced many competing demands and were required to prioritise risks within their existing resources. As a result, the area management was unable to direct adequate resources for the care and protection of all children.
Overall, the quality and safety of the child protection and welfare service required significant improvement to ensure it met the needs of all children and their families who required the service. The majority of referrals were screened in a timely fashion and were of good quality. Referrals identifying immediate or high risk to children were responded to quickly and there were no high-priority cases awaiting allocation. However, the priority was based solely on the screening of the referral, therefore it was not completely reliable. Referrals identified as low risk or not meeting the threshold for Tusla service were often well managed through diversion systems.
There was an unacceptably long wait time for preliminary enquiries to take place, especially for cases prioritised as low or medium risk at screening. The purpose of preliminary enquiries is to gain further information in order to determine what action is required to address the needs of and risks to the child. As enquiries did not take place in a timely fashion, the risk to these children was largely unknown. This meant that children and families were not receiving the right service at the right time, and many children remained on waitlists for extended periods without being provided with relevant supports.