I assure the Deputy that every referral to Tusla's Child Welfare and Protection Services is assessed by social workers when it is received. Cases of suspected child abuse referred to Tusla can be categorised into four different types: neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Between 2016 and the end of April 2019, there have been almost 180,000 referrals to Tusla’s Child Welfare and Protection service, with over 55,000 referrals in 2018 alone. Approximately 60% of referrals in a year will be for child welfare reasons, with 40% relating to concerns about possible child sexual abuse. The child protection team on duty will assess each referral to see if it meets the threshold for intervention and all urgent cases are assigned immediately to a social worker. After screening, a duty social worker carries out a preliminary inquiry, gathering information about the referral, in order to determine whether the report meets the threshold of harm for child protection. If the preliminary inquiry finds that a child protection response is not required, the case may be diverted for a welfare response at that point. The preliminary inquiry also determines the priority status of each case. Cases that cannot be immediately allocated to a social worker are overseen by duty social work teams and in some cases specific actions are carried out by the social work team, including information gathering and visits to the child in question.
As the Deputy will be aware, the investigation of a crime is a matter for An Garda Síochána. Where appropriate, social workers notify An Garda Síochána, following the procedures set out in the Children First Act 2015. Tusla social work teams work in a risk-heavy environment and it is not always possible to remove every risk to a child. However, in situations where a child is at immediate risk, Tusla will act to remove the child to a place of safety. Where children remain in their homes, the focus is on building networks of safety around a child and ensuring that the source of any risk or threat is managed through planning and working with families.