HIQA has criticised Tusla for not notifying gardaí in a timely manner of suspected crimes of neglect, physical and sexual abuse in the Dublin South West/Kildare/West Wicklow area.

The independent watchdog said the Tusla area concerned failed seriously to comply with all four standards assessed during last April's inspection.

It said that child protection and welfare referrals were not consistently screened within 24 hours, a standard set out in the Child and Family Agency's own business processes.

The area inspected by the authors of the report stretches from Dublin South City to the western boundaries of counties Kildare and Wicklow.

Of the 17 Tusla areas, it experiences the third highest level of deprivation.

Encompassing both rural districts and urban concentrations such as Tallaght, Crumlin, Naas and Newbridge, it is home to over 108,000 under-18s, who comprise 27% of its population.

In the six months prior to last April's inspection, the Tusla area concerned received 2,116 referrals of child protection and welfare reports.

The report says that risks identified by an inspection of the area's foster care service last November prompted HIQA's April review.

In November, the area's management identified that staffing deficits compromised the delivery of a safe and effective service.

Five months later, inspectors found the service area was "challenged to ensure (that) a service was consistently delivered".

They say that the area was not routinely notifying An Garda Síochána of suspected crimes of wilful neglect or physical or sexual abuse against children in a timely manner.

Of the 2,116 referrals made to the service in the six months before the inspection, the report says that "only 24 notifications had been made to gardaí which was a very low number" relatively speaking.

Of the 77 referrals reviewed by inspectors, none had been notified by Tusla to gardaí.

Inspectors found eight cases where such a notification may have been required, based on the information on the file.

In one case, a preliminary inquiry was overdue by four months.

The report states that all of the eight cases were escalated to the area management for assurances that notifications were made, where required.

Management told the inspectors that upon review, the social work team intended to consider whether a notification was required as part of an initial assessment upon a so-called 'grounding' of the suspicion.

In a statement released today, Tusla's Chief Operations Officer Jim Gibson said: "We accept the findings of this report, however, it is important to state that Tusla has made important headway in implementing a range of measures to reform child protection and welfare services within a very challenging area". 

Separately, the Tusla regional service director acknowledged that the number of notifications to gardaí was low.

She said that a notification should be made when there was a suspicion of abuse in line with the Children's First legislation of 2017; that it should usually be made at preliminary inquiry stage and that staff should not await the grounding of the suspicion of abuse.

She said that she subsequently issued a memo directing staff accordingly.

But inspectors found that immediate action was taken to protect children where required in five out of the six cases, which fell into this category in the sample of 77 cases examined.

The sixth case was escalated to the area management as there had been no response to an allegation of physical abuse of a child.

Inspectors were satisfied when management responded that a home visit to see the child "was being undertaken" in order to assess the allegations.

Complimenting good practice by Tusla social work staff staff in the five other cases, the reports states that two of them "illustrated excellent inter-agency working between An Garda Síochána and social work staff to ensure safety of children and subsequent work such as placing children in emergency fostering placements had been undertaken in a timely manner".

Overall, in the six months prior to the inspection, the area handled 60 cases that required immediate action.

The report says that despite examples of good social work practice, "there were significant problems in responding to referrals" which led to screening and preliminary inquiries not being "completed in a timely and comprehensive manner".

The inspectors found that "this impacted on some children referred to the service who did not receive a timely visit from a social worker. Consequently, safeguarding measures including safety plans and the corresponding supports were not always put in place".