It was costing Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, €45,593 per week to have six children accommodated in specialist care facilities abroad last year.
That is according to extensive briefing documents prepared by officials for the new Minister for Children, Disability, Equality, and Integration, Roderic O’Gorman.
Tusla’s allocation from the department this year accounts for around €818m or just over 50% of the department's €1.6bn budget.
In their 420 page briefing document, officials caution that the impact of Covid-19 on Tusla’s efforts to maintain essential frontline services throughout the public health emergency “will have significant cost implications”.
They said: “Despite identifying savings arising from restrictions and reduced movement as a result of Covid-19, Tusla estimate additional expenditure of €7m if the crisis is to last 13 weeks, with costs increasing if the crisis extends beyond this period.”
Officials also warned of the impact of Covid-19 on children being accommodated in residential care, such as the challenge of children not adhering to social distancing protocols or other key health measures, along with significant behavioural challenges by a small number of children who are spitting and coughing at staff and other children.
The document states: “Due to the Covid-19 crisis there may be a need for increased capacity within residential care, either to facilitate children who need to self isolate or to provide additional placements for children newly entering care where foster care is not available or suitable.”
On the budgetary impact of Covid-19 on residential care for children, the document states that the implications include increased costs as a larger workforce is required to cover the staff on sick leave and in isolation, and the potential for new centres to be urgently required to meet a spike in demand for placements.
The report reveals that as of March 24 this year, Tusla reported 148 residential care staff nationally were not available for work either due to illness or requirement to self-isolate following exposure to a suspected case of Covid 19.
The briefing document states that Tusla currently operates three special care units for children who have very particular needs.
The report states: “Due to staffing difficulties these centres currently operate at roughly 50% capacity. Tusla have sought to improve staff retention.”
The document states that as of April 2, 2020 there were 16 children in special care placements and full staffing would support 26 beds.
The report states that Tusla’s spend on agency staff in 2019 was in excess of €33m, which represents an increase of nearly 135% since the Agency was established in 2014. In 2019, Tusla was supported by 605 agency workers, of whom 185 were social workers and 222 were social care workers.
It states that Tusla has undertaken a significant agency conversion across frontline core grades and 67% of these frontline agency workers — 408 agency staff — have taken up the offer of conversion to fixed term/fixed purpose contracts in 2020.