An investigation by HIQA has found that the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, must take urgent action to address serious shortcomings in how it manages allegations of child sexual abuse.
The Health Information and Quality Authority says that some children are being left at "potential risk" because of failures at operational level in Tusla to accurately record decisions and actions and to manage under-performance among its personnel.
Among the shortfalls identified are deficiencies in Tusla's communications with people against whom allegations have been made.
The HIQA investigation was requested by the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, a little over a year ago following an RTÉ Prime Time investigation which exposed serious shortcomings in how Tusla handled a false allegation of child sexual abuse against the garda whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
The results of the investigation were reviewed by Cabinet earlier.
The terms of reference precluded the eight-person investigation team from examining the sergeant's case, which is currently under scrutiny at the Disclosures Tribunal headed by Judge Peter Charleton.
However, Tusla said this afternoon that a HR process is ongoing in relation to it.
The team found that although 164 of the case files it reviewed were deemed to have been closed, it could not establish that they were.
It also found cases that were inappropriately closed as there were outstanding child protection concerns.
The report states that some children are being left at "potential risk" because of failures at operational level in Tusla to accurately record decisions and actions and to manage under-performance among its personnel.
There were also failures to consistently implement Tusla's national policies and business processes; to monitor the effectiveness of steps taken to protect children; and to support the personal development of staff.
The reports says the failings stem from a gap between Tusla's national policy and what is actually happening on the ground regarding the screening of allegations, the development and management of safety plans and Tusla's communications with people against whom allegations have been made.
The investigation found that inconsistencies in screening practice and preliminary enquiries into allegations meant that "not all children at potential risk were being assessed and, where necessary, protected by Tusla in a timely and effective manner."
Inconsistencies in safety planning practice by Tusla meant that while some children were adequately safeguarded, others at potential risk were not.
It says that:
"Some people were not told that an allegation of abuse had been made against them and others were given only limited information."
The 304-page report makes 11 recommendations, four to the Department of Children and seven to Tusla.
The Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, said the recommendations would be implemented in full and needed to be addresses as a matter of urgency as the issues raised were of great concern.
Meanwhile Tusla welcomed the findings saying it took the issues raised exceptionally seriously.
HIQA has concurred with concerns that Tusla's systems are a "serious risk to the health and welfare" of children.
It found gaps between national policy and what is actually happening on the ground in relation to Tusla's child protection.
The watchdog found not all children at potential risk of sexual abuse were being assessed.
HIQA said that Tusla cannot rely on staff shortages as a default reason for failing to deliver a safer service.
It said the deficiencies found during this investigation, which only related to sexual abuse cases, may be replicated across the child protection services.