A record number of children were referred to Tusla’s child protection and welfare services last year, even as the Child and Family Agency struggled with a €5.1m budget deficit.
The Tusla Annual Report for 2014 states that, based on provisional data, 43,179 referrals were made because of child welfare and child abuse issues — twice the number of referrals made less than a decade ago and an increase of 1,580 on 2013.
While the number of abuse referrals fell last year by almost 1,000 to 18,541, the number of child welfare referrals soared by 2,446 to 24,638.
The report also found that 8,351 children had not been allocated a social worker at the end of 2014, of which one third were deemed high priority, while 1,400 children were listed as being at “ongoing risk of significant harm” on the Child Protection Notification System (CPNS).
Children also continue to be placed with unapproved foster carers.
Some 442 relative foster carers were unapproved. However, the bulk of foster carers, 4,210, were approved.
The annual report shows Tusla ended its first year of operations with a deficit of €5.1m.
However, in the report, Tusla chairwoman Norah Gibbons said: “Despite this being a time of constrained resources much has been achieved in the agency’s first year.”
The report lists a range of targets met in 2014, but also highlights the scale of the workload faced by its staff, including 6,463 children in care at the end of last year, two thirds of whom were in foster care with another 29% in relative foster care; 1,400 children listed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm on the CPNS as of the end of last year; 1,282 children or families supported in addressing serious or chronic school attendance issues; and more than 20,000 children in receipt of family support services at the end of 2014.
The report does highlight some positive developments, such as a fall in staff absenteeism.
The number of young people aged between 18 and 22 who received an aftercare service last year increased by 15%; there was a decrease of 24% (to 200) of children who were placed with the Emergency Out of Hours Place of Safety Service; and a fall of 45% in the number of children (174) placed with the Crisis Intervention Service, which also received 752 referrals last year.
While 27,651 cases were open to social work services at the end of 2014, some 70% had been allocated a social worker and of the 5,620 that were not, two thirds were deemed to be low/ medium priority.
June Tinsley, head of advocacy at Barnardos, said the report highlighted how under-resourced Tusla has been. “It’s been chronically underfunded from the get-go,” she said.
“The reality is those referrals could increase when the Children First Bill is enacted.”
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