The chief executive of Tusla is seeking to reduce the number of children in private residential care placements after admitting the current level was a worry.
Bernard Gloster said he hopes to finalise a plan for the board of the Children and Family Agency by Christmas on how to reduce the growing dependence on for-profit companies providing residential care.
"If you go into foster care, over 5,000 children are in foster care and 400 and odd children are in private foster placements, quite a small provision. You go to residential care, there are over 450 children and young people in residential care in Ireland and between 250 and 300 of them are in private provision, so you are over 50%, and that dependency has to be a concern."
Empowering People In Care has said the current level of private residential care provision should be reviewed and also called for increased investment in Tusla-run homes, saying it would reduce any risk of short-term closure of private centres, improve consistency and open the way for HIQA inspections.
At present, HIQA inspects Tusla centres, but not private centres, which instead are inspected by Tusla.
As to that dual role of Tusla when it comes to paying the private providers and also inspecting them, Mr Gloster said: "That is a very significant anomaly and I have pointed that out.
"To be fair, I think people are committed to looking to resolve that. It is still fundamentally wrong. I can't be the provider and the regulator."
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said switching inspections to HIQA was still under consideration, but said there was no timeframe as to when it might occur.
Mr Gloster said many private care placements were working well but added: "The bigger risk of that level of dependency on private care is private operators can leave the market, they can leave quickly, they can sell on, company structures can become very complex, and the reality is that if you have a private provider in a house with four young people, if that private provider left the market, the state has only one option and that is for us to take over that provision there and then, and you are into very complex matters of employment law and transfer undertaking and lots of other things."
David Durney, chair of the Irish Association of Social Care Workers, said he expected Tusla to seek to increase its level of service provision but said it may take quite some time.