Suspected child abuse victims in the midlands were assessed by social workers with less than two years' experience. 

The finding by the social service watchdog HIQA comes just over a year after the Child and Family Agency acknowledged that some 700 children in the area had no social worker allocated to them.

A HIQA inspection of Child Protection and Welfare Services in the midlands has found that one duty team which regularly dealt with unassessed risk - where a child presented to the service for the first time - was predominantly made up of inexperienced social workers.

One in five of those cases reviewed by inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority had to be escalated for the attention of the area manager of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla.

The nine-day announced inspection of the Child and Family Agency's Midlands Services stretched over dates in mid-January and March this year.

It followed notifications to the watchdog in April 2015 by the Agency.

These included that around 700 unallocated child protection case files pertaining to Laois and Offaly had been discovered in a Portlaoise office and that 822 unacknowledged Garda notifications of alleged abuse had also been found.

The midlands services also cover counties Westmeath and Longford.

In today's report, HIQA says its inspectors found that one duty team which regularly dealt with unassessed risk was predominantly made up of inexperienced social workers who had qualified within the previous two years.

It says that the team worked with children at their first point of entry into the system and dealt with unassessed risk on a daily basis.

Inspectors viewed 53 of the team's cases and had to escalate ten of them to the area manager. 

In a statement, Tusla said it welcomed the report's findings and acknowledged that while there are "a number of areas which still require improvement, significant progress has been made throughout the child protection and welfare services over the last 12 months".

The agency said the report highlighted feedback from children who said there was good communication with the social work team and children were regularly visited by social workers.

It said an ICT system has been developed to track all cases within child protection and welfare services and a new tracking system for Garda notifications and acknowledgements is "active across the area" and reviewed monthly.

An advocacy group for young people in care has described the report as "extremely worrying".

In a statement, the CEO of Empowering People in Care, Jennifer Gargan said the regulator's report shows that inexperienced staff are at the coal face of front line services. 

She added that it is extremely concerning that the watchdog's inspection found the area was still not fully compliant with legislation and claimed service shortages continue to put children at risk. 

EPIC highlighted HIQA's finding that only one national standard of the 27 that were inspected against was fully met; that 22 required improvement and four standards were identified as having 'significant risk'.

It says key issues identified in the report included the high number of unallocated cases and the escalation of a number of them by HIQA inspectors to high-priority status due to the lack of timely and/or appropriate intervention.

The group adds that while it was found that when children were allocated a social worker they received an adequate service, HIQA's report highlights serious deficiencies where the duty team mainly consisted of agency staff.

Welcoming the findings, a spokesperson for Tusla said that while a number of areas still require improvement, significant progress has been made throughout the child protection and welfare services over the past year.