A HIQA inspection of the Child Protection and Welfare Service in the Dublin South West, Kildare, West Wicklow area has found the service was not routinely notifying gardaí of suspected neglect or abuse against children in a timely manner.
A themed inspection of the service, which is operated by Tusla, was carried out by HIQA inspectors over three days in April.
Four standards - relating to the initial management of referrals - were assessed, and all were found to be in major non-compliance.
The standards in question included one related to 'timely and effective actions taken to protect children'.
According to HIQA, issues discovered included gardaí not being notified of suspected crimes of neglect or physical or sexual abuse against children in a timely manner.
The report states: "There were 2,116 referrals made to the service in the six months prior to the inspection.
"Of those, only 24 notifications had been made to gardaí which was a very low number relative to the number of referrals made to the service."
HIQA inspectors reviewed 77 referrals, and none had a notification made to gardaí by Tusla.
They found eight referrals where a notification to the force "may have been required, based on the information on the file".
Child protection and welfare referrals were not consistently screened within 24 hours, which is the guideline set out in Tusla’s business processes.
Meanwhile, children also faced significant delays in the completion of preliminary enquiries - with basic checks not always completed as part of those initial efforts.
The report states the the overall quality of preliminary enquiries was poor, and that safeguarding measures were not always put in place.
Inspectors did identify examples of good social work practice, and noted effective measures had been put in place to reduce a backlog of referrals.
While issues with notifying gardaí of concerns were noted, there were also cases showing 'good co-working' with the force.
In a statement, HIQA said: "The oversight of child protection and welfare cases was poor in the area. Formal supervision and quality assurance systems were not effective at providing assurance that the service was being safely delivered.
"Risk management in the area was not effective at identifying all risks and putting measures in place to mitigate them."
Tusla has now provided an action plan in a bid to address the areas where improvements are needed.
In a statement, the child and family agency said it accepted the findings of the report - but stressed it has made "important headway" in implementing reforms "within a very challenging area".
Patricia Finlay, Service Director with Tusla, said: “Tusla advised HIQA of a number of on-going issues and concerns. The issues identified within this inspection had been previously identified by management and staff in this area, and a number of initiatives are already completed or underway in the area.
"While we acknowledge that there were shortcomings in systems and administrative practices which have largely been rectified, we are satisfied that the child protection practice provides safe and effective care for children. "