Children’s Services Publication Statement 26 July 2023

Date of publication:

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published two inspection reports on services provided by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla). The reports relate to Tusla’s child protection and welfare service in the Dublin South West Kildare West Wicklow area and its Separated Children Seeking International Protection service.

HIQA is authorised by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth 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 Tusla’s performance against national standards and advises the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Tusla.

In both services, HIQA found inadequate resources in place to meet the demands of the service and the needs of children. As a result, both services focused on providing an emergency response to those at highest risk or addressing basic care needs such as providing accommodation and, as a consequence, not all children’s needs were assessed or met in a timely manner. 

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. 

HIQA conducted an announced inspection of Tusla’s Separated Children Seeking International Protection service between 28 February and 2 March 2023. This service provided an urgent response to the needs of unaccompanied children who arrive in Ireland.

The inspection focused on the effectiveness of Tusla’s governance of the service, children’s rights, and the quality and safety of child protection and welfare services that unaccompanied children received. HIQA found that all 10 standards assessed were not compliant.

The governance and resourcing of the service required significant improvement. The governance and information systems in place in other child protection and welfare services were not being applied to this service. For example, the service was not adhering in full to Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2017), inter-agency arrangements for children missing from care nor were Tusla’s standard business processes for the management and oversight of referrals or monitoring and reporting on performance implemented.

Resources were not deployed effectively to the service despite increasing demands due to the substantial increase in unaccompanied children arriving in Ireland from a range of countries. Staffing challenges in 2022 resulted in a crisis response focusing primarily on the unaccompanied children’s basic care needs and accommodation, rather than on the wider ongoing child protection and welfare needs of this cohort of vulnerable children. Despite these challenges, staff had worked hard and ensured all unaccompanied children were seen on the day of referral and provided with accommodation.

Other areas requiring improvement included:

  • management of referrals, such as the lack of prioritisation
  • poor oversight of unallocated children and reunification of children with parents or relatives
  • timely access to support services
  • children’s privacy, dignity and confidentiality being compromised due to the condition of the premises.

An urgent compliance plan was issued following the inspection to address two risks relating to the safety and wellbeing of children. 

The inspection reports and Tusla’s response to non-compliances can be found at