A HSE document released to RTÉ’s This Week programme says apparent discrimination by the Child and Family Agency Tusla may have excluded children from child protection services.

The document, released under a Freedom of Information request, formed part of an assessment of the joint working of the two agencies and cited "major failings" in how a memorandum of understanding on the provision of services was being implemented.

In the document, the Social Care division of the HSE, which has responsibility for disability services, expressed its frustration at Tusla and its framework for assessing the needs of children with disabilities.

This appears to discriminate against children with a disability and may exclude them from accessing child protection services.

The HSE document also points to similar frustrations from disability service providers seeking to access child protection services from Tusla.

"Feedback from operational areas has identified that service providers whilst following the Children First Guidelines are then unable to access child protection services due to an increase in the threshold level and criteria of the CFA framework as set by the CFA.

"This raises concerns for the service provider where safety and welfare concerns are identified and 'proactive' input is required".

Speaking to This Week, Children's Ombudsman Niall Muldoon described the issues raised in the HSE document as "extremely concerning".

In a statement, Tusla said all child protection concerns are screened and assessed in line with the CFA guidelines.

"All child protection concerns are treated in the same way, regardless of the challenges that a child may or may not face. Further, no child is excluded from accessing child protection services, regardless of their situation," it continued.

The HSE document outlined a number of case studies in which Tusla breached protocols of inter-agency co-operation and failed to fulfil its statutory obligations.

One local disability service manager said "disability agencies have found it very difficult to achieve meaningful engagement with Tusla in ensuring that a child with intellectual disability has the same rights and entitlements as every other child in Ireland requiring services from Tusla.

"Therefore, agency experience thus far has been far from ideal and incredibly frustrating," he said.

In a statement to This Week, the HSE said that the document was written in 2014.

"The issues raised represent a small number of individual instances which occurred in the first nine months of an entirely new working relationship between the HSE and Tusla.

"These issues could be described as the exception rather than the norm," the statement read.

Significant improvements in the working relationship have taken place since that time.

However, senior child protection sources who spoke to the programme on condition of anonymity said the issues raised in the document are ongoing.

Autism support organisation Shine Ireland also said it remained concerned about Tusla’s dealings with children with disabilities and their families.

Shine Ireland Advocacy Manager Kieran Kennedy said he "had cases in just the last couple of months," and questioned "where is this new pro-active coordinated approach?"

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