The Health Information and Quality Authority has criticised child and family agency Tusla in a report on the child protection and welfare and foster care services provided by it in the Cork area.

HIQA said of the 12 standards assessed, Tusla was fully compliant in none.

It said Tusla was not compliant in 10 of the standards, and was only substantially compliant in the remaining two.

In its report, HIQA said there remained significant gaps in foster care placements for children with complex needs. In particular, the availability of a suitable range of care placements for a small, highly vulnerable group of children was "inadequate", HIQA said.

It also said there remained areas of social work practice where the pace, level or impact of change had been relatively slow.

HIQA's report was based on a risk-based inspection, which was conducted in Cork in February of this year.

HIQA said this inspection considered the progress made by the service in Cork in addressing key areas for improvement highlighted in previous inspections in 2020 and 2021.

Three areas of significant risk

Following its inspection in February, HIQA issued Tusla's child protection and welfare and foster care services in the Cork service area with an urgent compliance plan, which highlighted three areas of significant risk found in the inspection.

These include gaps in case recording, governance and review of child protection and welfare cases within the duty and intake system in one department, resulting in lack of recognition and responsiveness to escalating concerns about the safety of children.

There was also a breach of fostering regulations in the placement of two children within a household that had not been assessed or approved as general foster carers.

In addition, four young people were placed in unregulated care settings, including hotels, at the time of the inspection.

The inspection also found ongoing significant shortfalls in the responsiveness and availability of suitable placements for children in an emergency or following a placement breakdown, with particular concerns about the safety and welfare of four children placed in unregulated settings.

Tusla itself reported that it was aware of 220 children on a waiting list. Of these, 114 were awaiting access to Tusla's Prevention, Partnership and Family Support Programme (PPFS) and 106 children were awaiting a Méitheal service.

HIQA said Tusla in Cork had continued to experience significant challenges in finding suitable placements for children with complex needs.

It said the use of unregulated settings - including hotels - in the absence of any other alternatives was recognised as a major organisational risk.

Expected standards not embedded

In addition, HIQA found that the expected standards of governance had not been embedded across all the service area's duty and intake teams.

It said monitoring and quality assurance systems had not been fully implemented, or were not yet effective in driving service improvements to ensure compliance with statutory regulations.

It added that that a significant proportion of children in foster care - 265 children- in the Cork area had not been visited in line with regulations.

It said there continued to be delays in the completion of preliminary enquiries, with a lack of capacity to ensure all children were promptly allocated. It said not all children in foster care had a designated social worker.

In addition, HIQA said one social work department indicated that 10 of its practitioners had unmanageable caseloads, due to the significant challenges it faced in recruiting staff, combined with high levels of turnover in the past year.

The report also found that two other departments continued to lack capacity to allocate all new referrals in a timely manner.

It also stated that safety plans were not sufficiently developed or reviewed for some children referred to child protection and welfare teams.