Children’s services publication statement 27 April 2021

Date of publication:

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has published an inspection report on the foster care and child protection and welfare services operated by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Dublin South West, Kildare, West Wicklow service area.

HIQA conducted a risk-based inspection of the Dublin South West, Kildare, West Wicklow service area, located in Tusla’s Dublin Mid Leinster region, between 7 to 11 December 2020. A total of 10 standards were examined to assess progress in addressing the risks to children across both the foster care and child protection and welfare services. Of the nine child protection and welfare standards assessed, one standard was compliant, two standards were substantially compliant, four standards were moderate non-compliant, and two standards were major non-compliant. The one foster care standard assessed was found to be major non-compliant. 

The service area submitted a compliance plan which outlined plans to address the risks. The inspection report and compliance plan can be found at www.hiqa.ie. The compliance plan will continue to be monitored as part of HIQA’s ongoing regulatory activity. More detail on the findings is outlined below.

Child protection and welfare

Management systems in place to review and monitor the standards of service provision in relation to cases awaiting allocation required improvement. Standard operating procedures to manage unallocated cases were not consistently implemented. This lack of consistent management oversight meant that the area could not be assured that children were receiving a timely service that was appropriate to their needs. Reviews of cases on waiting lists did not result in cases being appropriately prioritised for allocation, despite significant indicators of cumulative harm in some of the cases reviewed. The review information included on the file did not provide a specific analysis or rationale for the decisions made in relation to each case, nor did it outline what action was to be taken in each case. 

Data management practices in relation to some children’s files were poor, and relevant documents, such as case notes, had not been uploaded or completed. This impacted on the ability of managers to review casework and review all relevant information for children who were on the waiting list for child protection and welfare services.

Further improvements were required in the timeliness and quality of screening and preliminary enquiry in the service area. All concerns in relation to children were screened and directed to the appropriate service. The majority of referrals were classified appropriately. While significant improvement had been made to meet the time frames for screening and preliminary enquiries, further work was required to ensure consistency, and adhere to Tusla’s own standard business processes. The area had made improvements in the completion of notifications to An Garda Síochána. 

The quality of safety plans was inconsistent and the process for monitoring, reviewing and updating safety plans in the area required further improvement. There was no clear system in place to ensure that safety plans were being implemented by families, or to ensure that safety plans had been updated to take account of changes in family situations. 

Initial assessments completed by the service were of good quality, and children were met with and observed as part of the assessment process. There was good quality analysis of children’s needs, and the strengths and risks that existed within their network. However, they were not completed in a timely manner. 

The timeliness of initial child protection conferences required improvement. This presented a risk for the children involved, as existing safety plans and interventions were not addressing the identified risks to children or keeping children safe. The content of the child protection safety plans developed were of good quality. Review child protection conferences were comprehensive and were completed in a timely manner. 

Foster care

This inspection focused on the areas of risk identified in a previous inspection: governance and oversight of relative care assessments, and the aftercare service. 

The area had implemented a system to track the progress of assessments of relative foster carers. However, this system was not effective as it was not accurate or up to date, and there continued to be significant delays in allocating relative assessments to a social worker for completion. The reasons for the delays were not recorded. Management oversight was inadequate, with insufficient action taken when a lack of progress was evident. While there was evidence of communication with external providers regarding the progress of relative assessments that were contracted out, the process for tracking these assessments was inconsistent. 

Garda vetting of foster carers or other young people over 16 had not been updated on a number of the files reviewed, and while the area had implemented actions to address the oversight of Garda vetting, it was not effective as gaps remained on some files.

There was a dedicated and committed aftercare team and manager now in place with a clear vision for the service. The team was significantly under resourced which impacted on the quality and timeliness of the service provided. New referrals to the service could not be allocated, due to staff having unmanageable caseloads. There was a system in place to ensure that referrals to the service were received in a timely manner, and while there were arrangements in place to support young people who did not have an aftercare worker, the records of interventions, support and guidance provided was not always evident. The aftercare service had not yet fully commenced the electronic storing of files on National Child Care Information Systems (NCCIS) and paper files continued to be held for 16 to 18 year olds involved with the aftercare service. This was identified as an area for action in the service improvement plan. 

There were plans to develop the aftercare service further, which involved the recruitment of additional staff. The aftercare manager was developing a system to ensure improved oversight of aftercare services by an external provider, and the auditing of files was due to commence in January 2021.