The chief executive of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has expressed concern about the effect school closures during the Covid-19 emergency are having on children at risk, with the number of referrals to the agency significantly down since schools closed last month. 

Bernard Gloster said schools play a significant part in the reporting of concerns about children at risk of neglect or abuse as they normally have contact with children "all day, everyday".

Schools make up a quarter of reports to Tusla each year regarding children at risk.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Gloster said that children at risk are now spending more time without the support system they would normally have around them - at schools, sports clubs and in other social interactions. 

He said there is usually a fall-off in referrals during school holidays but children at risk would be known and identified for supports. 

He stressed that Tusla's social and domestic support service is an essential service and is still receiving and assessing referrals and working with families and children at risk. 

Family visits are continuing with social distancing guidelines for staff who, he said,  have made significant adjustments in work practices to interact with clients and children. 

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Mr Gloster said anyone with a concern about a child's safety or welfare should contact their local duty social work office and details are available on the Tusla's website. 

Earlier, Assistant Secretary for Social Policy at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan said all referrals and concerns about children are being screened and assessed as with normal practice.  

She said Tusla teams are working to keep children as safe as possible during this time and that there are currently 6,000 children in care and staff around the country are continuing to work to ensure the continuity of services.