Tusla has warned that “strict financial governance” will be needed to bring it in on budget this year, stressing that if cost containment measures are not achieved the savings will need to be made in other areas.
In its 2019 business plan, Tusla cited a number of areas which will put financial pressure on the agency during 2019, including grants to outside agencies and the cost of private residential and foster care services.
The recently-published plan earmarks a number of areas for savings, including “cost transfer related to children over 18 within disability services”, “reduction in the number of children under 12 in private residential placements”, “reduction in agency pay and conversion to payroll”, and “reduction in high cost aftercare arrangements”.
Tusla projects an initial estimated deficit of over €20m this year, primarily linked to private residential and foster care services and to cover the cost of compliance with the European Working Time Directive.
While pay-related costs are in line with budget, Tusla said in relation to financial risks: “An increase in the number of children in care requiring specialist residential and foster care services will have a significant impact on resources due to the high cost nature of these services.”
Each placement in private residential now cost costs around €300,000 a year and each placement in private foster care costs in excess €50,000 per annum.
Regarding cost containment measures, Tusla said these need to save around €20m in 2019 or else the savings will need to be made in other areas.
Nevertheless, Tusla has set itself targets to improve its services this year including a 20% reduction in child protection and welfare cases awaiting allocation.
It is receiving close to 150 referrals a day and the report said:
Ongoing difficulty in recruiting and retaining social workers in child protection services, compounded by the increasing number of referrals, continues to impact the Agency’s capacity to reduce the number of cases awaiting allocation of a social worker.
It also outlines plans for a 20% reduction in retrospective case awaiting allocation, among other targets.
The business plan also notes shortcomings due to human or financial resource issues over the past year.
For example, while 1,425 children are registered as being home-schooled — almost 1,000 more than a decade ago — just 352 assessments were done in the 11 months to the end of November 2018, 34% fewer than the same period in 2017.
At the end of last November, 511 children were awaiting assessment for registration, 71% more than November 2017.
According to the report: “The decrease in the number of assessments done and the consequent increase in the number of children awaiting assessment is due to the loss of a number of assessors from the panel of assessors.”
A quarter of home school applications are for a child with special needs.
It shows that 308 people left Tusla last year, including 158 social workers and 68 social care workers. According to the figures, there were 1,452 social workers in Tusla in 2018, meaning that over the course of the year more than 10% left and had to be replaced.
Projected recruitment this year is pitched at 489 people, including 149 social workers and 102 social care workers.