One in five children known to be in danger of neglect, physical or sexual abuse did not have a dedicated social worker last year, it has emerged.
There were 5,291 children (21%), described as child protection and welfare cases, who did not have an allocated social worker.
According to Tusla’s 2019 annual report, there were 24,827 child protection and welfare cases “open to social work” nationally by the end of last year.
The Child and Family Agency points out that the number of cases awaiting allocation was down 18% (1,141) from December 2018 when a high of 6,432 was reported.
Tusla says that where a child is awaiting a dedicated social worker, they are supported until one becomes available.
Chairperson of Tusla, Pat Rabbitte, said the recruitment and retention of social workers continued to be an “area of concern” for the agency last year.
Over the year the agency sought to develop new initiatives to attract social work graduates and has invested in strategies to improve staff retention.
It points out that the conversion of 408 agency staff to direct employment contracts was a “significant achievement” last year.
“The challenging nature of the work involved in child protection and welfare means that this issue will only be effectively addressed with government assistance,” said Mr Rabbitte.
Responsibility for improving well-being and outcomes for children will always be “onerous”, he added.
"The challenges of providing a service that is consistent and appropriate for vulnerable children and families in communities across the country will always be demanding.
“Therefore, the agency must be prepared to admit its mistakes, continue to improve and innovate and to evolve a culture not hidebound by the past."
Mr Rabbitte said he and the board are committed to a major programme of continuous improvement that will require support from many quarters.
There were 2,186 referrals to Tusla's out-of-hours social work service last year, with 635 children placed in emergency care.
There were 5,985 children in the care of the agency at the end of last year and 91% were in foster care.
The report points out that Tusla’s Fostering week held last October led to over 400 enquiries.
Tusla managed 56,561 referrals to child protection and welfare services last year, a 3% annual increase and a 30% increase since its establishment in 2014.