Agency for children may seek more funds

The board of the Child and Family Support Agency will demand more funds from the Government if a review of social worker caseloads due in the autumn indicates a shortage of resources.

Norah Gibbons, chairwoman designate of the new agency, told the Oireachtas committee on health and children yesterday that there were 40,000 referrals to child welfare and support services in the past year.

Ms Gibbons also expressed concerns over the welfare of children living in the direct provision asylum seeker system and said a report on a new out-of-hours service would be launched in the coming months.

She said it was hoped the service would be rolled out nationally after first starting in urban areas. “We have a plan to do it which we didn’t have before. It won’t happen all at once despite my impatience.”

The bill to establish the agency, which will assume responsibility for childcare services, was published last week. Its budget was pitched at €570m, with 500 staff from three existing agencies operating under a single management team.

Ms Gibbons, formerly of Barnardos and who headed the investigation into the abuse of children in Roscommon, said strong local management would be put in place over a two-year “process of change”.

In mentioning the 40,000 referrals last year, she said it showed the need to ensure adequate staff numbers and the correct skills mix in the new agency, and that work already under way in this regard included mapping social work provision and a review of social worker caseloads, due in autumn.

Ms Gibbons is looking forward to seeing the review: “We will be talking to Government if it shows we need more resources.”

She said the reviews may also show the need for more family support workers or a fresh mix of resources and skills, adding that more audits of child neglect need to be carried out.

Ms Gibbons “very much did not want [the new agency] to be just an agency for troubled children”, adding that she would like a timeframe as to when children and families could be removed from direct provision as it was “not in their best interests”.


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