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Under-resourcing of Tusla at critical levels – McLellan

20 July, 2015

Responding to the recent Tusla report which states that some child protection managers are not satisfied that high-risk children can be kept safe, Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Children Sandra McLellan TD has said that the findings substantiate her concern over possible critical under-resourcing of the Child and Family Agency.

Deputy McLellan said:

“Just last Thursday, I raised the issue of under resourcing and under staffing within Tusla with the Head of the agency, Mr Gordon Jeyes, who was presenting at a Health and Children Committee meeting. I asked whether he was of the view that Túsla is operating under tight restrictive financial circumstances and if children were suffering as a result. He had stated that Túsla has made significant progress, despite resource constraint, but also that practice around the country still varies with the allocation of a budget based on needs analysis being priority. Mr. Jeyes has said the agency, which was set up in January 2014, will need additional funding of €25 million ‘merely to keep pace’. He also said that 280 additional social workers were required for the service to work effectively. 

“The committee learned that 2,031 cases were deemed as high priority and are still waiting on a social worker, and that the total staff number of staff is down 3,465, down 19 from a previous high of 3484 last year. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that the recent Tusla report evidences dissatisfaction of and concern of those working within the system.

“Six out of 17 Tusla child protection area managers have said they are not satisfied that all children at highest risk in their areas can be kept safe. Area managers in the Child and Family Agency in Dublin North, Louth/Meath, Cavan/Monaghan, the Midlands, the Midwest and Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan told a review team they were not confident all children at highest risk were being responded to. 

“The report of the 2015 national review of cases awaiting allocation found that, of more than 27,300 child protection cases open around the country on February 28th this year, 8,865 had not been allocated a social worker. This is again, tragically, not new news.

“It also said that, based on an in-depth sample study of 650 unallocated cases, 1,600 cases nationally required urgent and immediate follow up. The numbers of unallocated cases vary widely across the country.  Of the 650 sample cases, one case in the Midlands had been awaiting allocation of a social worker for up to five years. There were 10 cases that had been waiting between three and four years, 25 cases waiting between two and three, and 78 waiting between one and two years. 

“The report also raised concerns that some referrals categorised as medium priority should have been categorised as high priority, including cases related to domestic violence. This worries me hugely, as when I asked about the level of high risk cases shown in committee, I was told by officials that those were not deemed acute immediate high risk, and that there was a general waiting period for a social worker of a maximum 6 months. The figures in the report clearly contradict that statement.

“There is massive concern regarding the grading of priority. This is evidenced by findings for the Midlands, where more than 60 percent of the sample cases were given an incorrect priority level. 118 of the sample cases examined nationally contained sufficient risks when reviewed to be ‘escalated on’ to an area manager. Those included cases with serious reports of domestic violence while children were present, and some cases where children had disclosed physical violence or had visible bruising. 

“The report noted that, in the cases escalated, it was possible social work teams had carried out some level of assessment, but had not recorded it in the files.  The highest numbers of escalations were in Cork, the Midlands and Louth/Meath. 

“In another survey included in the report, 44 percent of principal social workers and team leaders said their workloads were ‘unmanageable’. 65 percent of principal social workers and 82 percent of team leaders said the amount of hidden risk in cases awaiting the allocation of a social worker was ‘a major worry’.  Finally, it states a lack of response in unallocated cases was due primarily to the capacity of social work teams to respond in a timely way to referrals. 

“It’s abundantly clear, whether the Minister wants to acknowledge it or not, that additional resources are needed urgently. Both Mr. Reilly and An Taoiseach have said previously that funding and resourcing for Tusla is not an issue. It clearly is, and children are suffering as a result. The report is alarming and Minister Reilly can no longer shy away from the issue.” 

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