Teenagers that reported suffering sexual assaults to a Leinster child protection service were left on waiting lists for months, a report by HIQA has found.
The health and social services watchdog found that the service in Dublin South West, Kildare and West Wicklow was severely under-resourced and under-staffed.
An inspection of case files at the service found two teenagers who had alleged sexual assaults were still on waiting lists eight and 14 months after making their initial reports.
In another case, a four-year-old child who had reported inappropriate contact by an older child remained on the waiting list after five months.
The service covers one of the most populated regions of the country – and the HIQA report warns that was understaffed by almost 1,900 hours a week.
"You have to respond"
Children's Rights Alliance CEO Tanya Ward told Newstalk that children's reports need to be acted upon quickly.
“It is a rarity that a small child or a young child even discloses that something like this has happened to them,” she said.
“Usually what happens is, it is only when someone reaches adulthood or maybe if they have been taken into foster care and they have spent several years in foster care so they feel they can trust someone.
“So, when a child has actually let adults know in their life that something has happened to them, you have to respond and you have to listen to it.”
Overall, the report found the quality and safety of the service needed significant improvements to meet the needs of all children and their families who need to access it.
Ms Ward said more resources are urgently needed:
“You can imagine for the staff working in the area when they have high caseloads, the stress of managing those caseloads and trying to make very hard decisions about where to put your resources on a daily basis,” she said.
“The staff shouldn’t be put in that position. We have to find a solution that is going to make their life easier.”
She noted that the housing crisis is making it harder to attract social workers to some parts of the country.
“There is this ongoing problem with trying to recruit social workers into Tusla because there are not enough graduates but there is also a problem in that part of the country, where the cost-of-living is impacting the choice that social workers make,” she said.
“When they go for their first or second job, you know, they just simply can’t afford to live in that part of the country.”
The ‘HIQA report found a “chronic shortfall” in staffing at the service that had led to gaps in monitoring and oversight of waitlist cases.
The Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has described the report as concerning and said there is a very significant problem recruiting social workers.
With reporting from Caoimhseach Connolly.