Fred McBride, the new CEO of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has said to stop families in the Irish care system taking risks would be to take away their dignity.
“There are risks in everybody’s lives, there is dignity in taking risks, we all take risks everyday. Why on earth would we think that the families that we work with shouldn’t take some risks?
“We take away the risks we take away their dignity. And there’s a bit of education to be done with the media certainly in Ireland.”
He was giving the opening address at the annual Social Care Ireland conference in Kildare. He wants to make Tusla more productive and the families the agency works with to take more responsibility for their lives.
“That should be our default position that we are helping parents to take responsibility,” he said.
He also told the conference about the results arising from an internal audit of Tusla and how social care professionals were operating in a risk-averse manner.
“We undertook an audit of our standard business process focusing on intakes and initial assessments and what we discovered was that less than half [43%] of our referrals proceeded to an actual assessment. We also found that in speaking to team leaders that sometimes they were allocating a case to a social worker for initial assessment ‘just in case’ something might go wrong further down the line.
“They were doing that against their better judgement. We absolutely need to move away from this ‘just in case’ mentality and giving staff the confidence and the skill to use their discretion, their judgement backed by the evidence,” he said.
Mr McBride believes that this ‘just in case’ risk-averse approach might be taking resources away from areas where real help is needed.
“There’s a lot of screening and checking and ‘just in case’ interventions going on and possibly, this is my hypothesis to be tested, possibly at the expense of interventions which are appropriate, proportionate and timely,” said the Tusla CEO.
Mr McBride suggested the term “services” be deleted from the conversation of social care and be replaced by the phrase “co-producing solutions” with families.
“Maybe we should stop talking about services altogether because it’s a very paternalistic almost patronising connotation and maybe we should just start talking about co-producing solutions. In order to do this we must embrace and manage risk,” he said.
He then hit out at the media for not being welcoming of the idea of “managing risk” when it comes to social care policy in Ireland.
“For those of you who heard the media coverage over the last couple of days they’re not very keen on it, they’re not very keen on the notion of managing risk, they’d much rather we took some responsibility for eradicating risk completely, which of course is an utterly, utterly absurd proposition.”
He said that the ‘status quo’ was no longer acceptable in the running of Tusla and that he presented the board of the agency with a new approach where families are included in the solution finding process.
“Are we ready to share power, responsibility, accountability with families when making decisions? Are we ready for that?
“The media yesterday are nowhere near ready for that, nowhere near it. Is our political system ready to back me to take that approach? Don’t know, need to find out. Are my board ready to back me in that approach? Yes they are,” he told the conference.
Mr McBride took over the role of Tusla chief from Gordon Jeyes when he retired last January. The conference finishes today.
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