Children’s services publication statement 5 May 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 Kerry service area.

HIQA conducted a risk-based inspection of the Kerry service area, located in Tusla’s South region, between 18 to 21 January 2021. A total of 10 standards were examined across both the foster care and child protection and welfare services. Of the seven child protection and welfare standards assessed, two standards were compliant, four standards were substantially compliant and one standard was moderate non-compliant. Of the three foster care standards assessed, one standard was moderate non-compliant and two standards were major non-compliant.  

The service area submitted two compliance plans which outlined plans to address the risks. The inspection report and compliance plans can be found at www.hiqa.ie. The compliance plans 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

The service had made good progress in implementing actions to address the risks to children in accordance with the required standards, legislation and policy. There were gaps which posed risks to the service, and these required attention. These included adherence to time frames as stated in their standard business processes, timely notifications of suspected abuse to An Garda Síochána and adherence to local standard operating procedures, such as the frequency of visits to children listed on the Child Protection and Notification System (CPNS). 

Managerial oversight had improved in the area for the child protection and welfare service. Robust monitoring systems had been established to drive further improvement and to learn from previous evaluations of the service.

Referrals were screened promptly. Staff members were knowledgeable about categories of abuse, thresholds of need and prioritisation levels. Social workers made good evidence-based decisions regarding the appropriate next steps for children and families. Further improvement was required in the timelines for completing preliminary enquiries. 

Children who required immediate care and protection due to risk of serious harm, were afforded timely access to child protection and welfare services. Their cases were well managed and safety planning was good. Procedures were in place to ensure social workers could manage and respond to risks of harm to children. Further improvement was required in relation to the oversight of children who were on the CPNS, to ensure they were visited at the frequency required. 

There was good practice found in cases requiring further intervention and evidence of good support to promote children’s safety and welfare. The area had reduced both waiting lists and the length of time that children were on waiting lists. However, waitlists remained for initial assessments and for further intervention, which meant that assessments of children’s needs were not completed within the required time frames.

Social workers and their managers had made progress to improve the quality and timelines of initial assessments since the last inspection. This was particularly evident since the restructuring of the service. There was good quality assessment, and analysis of risks. Children’s needs were also clearly identified, and there was managerial oversight on assessment records. 

The service area had made good progress in addressing previously unmanaged risks in relation to allegations made by adults who alleged they were abused as children. Senior management had significantly strengthened its partnership with the Gardaí. A process for joint working and information exchange had been put in place to enable the ongoing tracking of concerns and progress. Management arrangements required strengthening to provide a clear pathway for managing complaints and promoting a consistent response.

Foster Care

Recent governance improvements and the impact of restructuring the team had yet to have a positive impact on the foster care service, and some children had experienced multiple changes in social worker. Improvements in managerial oversight was required to ensure that statutory requirements were met and of good quality — for example, visiting children and keeping records up to date. Given the significant gaps in children’s records, managers did not have oversight of the work being undertaken with children in care during reported visits. Supervision was reported as one of the measures for ensuring governance and oversight of social work practice. While supervision was more regular, the quality and recording of supervision was poor. 

The area was not fulfilling its statutory responsibility in relation to statutory visits to children in care, however, the majority of children had been visited in recent months. Where children were visited, the quality of these visits was good. While the area had put a plan in place for increased monitoring and oversight of visits, the previous action plan following the last inspection did not adequately address this issue. Not all children had an allocated social worker, and staff leave and vacancies impacted on the service’s capacity to address this. 

The joint protocol for interagency collaboration between Tusla and the HSE had been implemented in the area, and social workers coordinated specialist services in a timely way, as required.

Children experienced changes in social workers in the months prior to inspection, due to the restructuring of the service. Children, foster carers and staff spoke about the negative impact that this had on families, given they needed to build new relationships with social workers who were not familiar with their story.

Not all allegations, serious concerns and complaints were classified correctly, and therefore were not always managed in line with the correct process. There were delays in the management of allegations which impacted on the timeliness of outcomes for children and foster carers.