The Child and Family Agency hopes the strategy, which runs until 2022 and which will be the subject of annual reviews, will address issues such as the number of cases where a social worker has not been allocated, inconsistencies in how cases are dealt with, and ease the administrative burden on social workers so they can carry out more face-to-face work with clients.
Tusla chief executive Fred McBride said the strategy, which includes a new national approach to the practice called the Signs of Safety, marked “a fundamental shift in the provision of family support, child protection, educational welfare, and alternative care services”.
It includes defined, measurable outcomes where “clear thresholds will be defined for child protection intervention, including transfer to/from alternative care, case closure, and diversion to partner organisations”.
It states that “child protection is everyone’s business”, backed by 10 Children First key principles that takes in early intervention, the right of parents and guardians to be consulted, and the primacy of child welfare.
Cormac Quinlan, Tusla’s interim director of policy and strategy, said that if the plan is successful, it will mean earlier interventions and also a reduction in the number of families who are “re-referred” back to the agency.
“One of the key goals will be to reduce the number of children in care,” he said.
Mr Quinlan said additional money provided to Tusla for its budget this year would help fund the implementation of the strategy while the long-awaited National Childcare Information system will finally be rolled out completely by the mid-2018. It is currently operating in two areas with plans to roll out to other areas this year.
He said inter-agency co-operation was also a key aspect of the strategy which will look at minimising and managing risks to children and with professionals looking to make better decisions at the point of referral.
The strategy was launched by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, who said: “I am very aware that this is a sensitive and challenging area of work; families will be clearly supported and children protected by Tusla. Social workers will be guided in their work and aspirations by the high expectations, which they support, in this strategy.”
The model for Signs of Safety was created in Western Australia and one of the people who designed it, Andrew Turnell, said that it would “create rigorous, human, child-centred child protection practice and make the Irish child protection system the envy of the developed world”.