‘Child agency facing a crisis a year’

The Government has been warned that it faces “a crisis a year” unless it starts ploughing additional funds into the cash-strapped Child and Family Agency, Tusla.

‘Child agency facing a crisis a year’

The warning came after it emerged that a review of child protection services found that, as of the end of last February, there were 27,337 open cases, 5,000 of which had not yet been allocated a social worker.

The review also suggested 44% of social workers reported an unmanageable caseload burden, and that some children were waiting years to be allocated a social worker.

The National Review of Cases Awaiting Allocation, seen by RTÉ’s This Week programme, also claimed there was a shortage of resources, and problems with how cases were assessed.

It follows a number of critical reports conducted by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) and earlier calls for Tusla to be given more money to conduct its work.

Last night, Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said Tusla “doesn’t have a brass farthing” for preventative work and that, if the Government wanted to avoid the possibility of future tribunals or inquiries on tragedies involving children known to the care services, it needed to make a greater investment in services.

Referring to the fact that Tusla required enhanced funding last year and that its allocation was much lower than what it had asked for in its initial business case, Mr Finlay said: “We all know it was set up with an inadequate budget from day one.

“If they are not put on a proper funding base you are going to have a crisis a year.”

Mr Finlay suggested Tusla was still as many as 300 social workers short of the required staffing level and that the agency had “done its damnedest” to shore up its finances, including cutting funding in numerous areas, including to Barnardos.

He said the agency might now be “at the end of its tether” and, with the October budget looming, was in need of more resources. He said the guardian ad litem system, in which the court appoints a legal guardian in legal proceedings, needed to be thoroughly overhauled so that Tusla did not need to meet spiralling legal costs.

A spokesman for Minister for Children James Reilly said the minister was aware of the difficulties covered by the report.

“It was the minister who, earlier this year, requested that Tusla would prepare the report with a close analysis of the needs related to social workers,” he said. “The report was submitted to the department on July 15.

“Minister Reilly met Tusla to discuss the report on July 16. Gordon Jeyes [Tusla CEO], the chairperson of Tusla Norah Gibbons, and senior officials attended the meeting.

“Tusla is now preparing a formal business case on the issue and the need for extra social workers. That business case will then be entered into the estimates process for 2016, which is now under way.”

Mr Jeyes, who last week told an Oireachtas committee Tusla needed funding of €25m to “keep pace”, said Tusla’s audit showed a “clear capacity gap”: “We have seen in the past what happens if we do not invest sufficiently in Ireland’s most vulnerable children.

“There can be no going back. We have started moving in the right direction. Hiqa and everyone else recognises that progress. It has been modest. We can speed it up, but there must be investment.”

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