Significant shortages of social workers was leading to “deficits” in Tusla’s oversight of children deemed at risk of significant harm in the Louth Meath area, an inspection by the healthcare watchdog found.
Tusla, the child and family agency, is falling short in the north east area when it came to prioritising vulnerable children believed to be at risk of harm in their homes, the Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) said.
The watchdog inspected Tusla’s service area covering Louth and Meath in late April. The inspectors found “deficits” in the monitoring and oversight of children known to be at risk of harm, who were listed on Tusla’s child-protection notification system.
The inspection report, published on Wednesday, found three of the 29 children on the internal register were left without an allocated social worker “for an extended period of time”.
The report said the Louth-Meath area needed to improve its governance arrangements, “in order to provide a consistent safe service to all children” listed as at-risk in their homes.
The watchdog said staffing resources “had not been prioritised sufficiently” to make sure these children all had an allocated social worker. As a result it said the children left without allocated social workers were not receiving an adequate service.
Where a child does not have a designated social worker Tusla still provides a social work response, with staff monitoring the cases until a social worker can be allocated to the child.
In response to the inspection findings, Tusla assured Hiqa all children on its at-risk register in the area would be allocated a social worker.
The Louth-Meath area manager and other senior managers told inspectors a shortage of staff was posing “significant challenges” to the local service, the report said. It noted the area had 29 vacant posts and a high turnover of staff, at the same time as they were dealing with increased caseloads.
Senior managers said this had impacted Tusla’s ability to deliver a “consistent” service to children deemed to be at risk.
The inspection said while there should be seven team leaders working across two assessment and intervention teams in the area, only one post was being filled at the time. Social workers who spoke to inspectors said these vacancies were having a “significant impact” on their workloads.
The inspectors said it was clear the area had been dealing with “a prolonged shortfall” between available staff and demand on its services for several years. The report noted the staffing shortages had been escalated to Tusla’s senior management team last year.
Hiqa concluded the service in the Louth-Meath area was not meeting four of the six required standards inspected.