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 Header Item Child and Family Agency Data (Continued)
 Header Item Child Care Services Staff

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 938 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone] Of course, I understand them. As I said, I am willing to engage should that be the decision of the Business Committee.

  On the question the Deputy has put before me, as she is aware, I have placed a high priority on addressing the number of children who are without an allocated social worker. I secured additional funding for this purpose in 2017 and Tusla is now in its second year of a three-year plan to ensure a social worker is allocated to all children and young people who need one. In its 2017 business plan it identified additional funding of €2 million for the recruitment of more than 120 social workers to further reduce the number of unallocated cases.

  The number of cases without an allocated social worker stood at 6,718 at the end of 2015. The figure at the end of 2016 was 5,413, representing a reduction of 19%, or 1,305, over the course of 2016. Cases to be allocated to a social worker include children known to Tusla whose social worker is no longer available to them, as well as children waiting to be allocated for the first time. All unallocated cases are assessed and prioritised according to risk. It will continue to be challenging to address the problem of unallocated cases, but we made good progress during 2016 and Tusla will continue to prioritise the issue in 2017.

  I have provided Tusla with the necessary financial resources to tackle the problem. I secured additional funding of €37 million in 2017, bringing its overall allocation to more than €700 million.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  A key challenge to achieve our objectives will be the recruitment of sufficient social workers and other professional and supporting staff. Tusla is engaged in a major recruitment of social workers, social care workers and business support staff for this purpose. It is important to emphasise that, as Tusla's three-year plan to address unallocated cases continues, all urgent cases are dealt with immediately and prioritised, as required. These children do not simply go on a waiting list. My Department will continue to closely monitor progress in this regard. I attach a high priority to tackling this matter and will continue to engage directly with the Tusla board and senior management team over the course of the year to review progress.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I suspect that my next question is the one the Minister was just about to answer. The target figure was 60%, but what has actually been reached is 19%, which clearly is totally inadequate for the children who have had no social worker allocated to them, despite the fact they are at risk. Why is this the case? The Minister has just said extra funding was allocated, but I believe there is a problem with recruitment. We were told Tusla expected to reach its target by the end of 2016, but it is clear that the target has not been reached.

I wish to ask about the 24-hour service. There is a very limited service available. There is an on-call social worker whose number is available to the Garda and a very limited number of other agencies but not to all those involved in child welfare services. There is no opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting between a social worker and a child at risk.

In the context of the issues I mentioned at the very start, including closing cases when there is no longer perceived to be a risk, this point must be reached at some stage, but we really need to know how come in a case in the public arena of which we are aware incorrect data were still on the Garda system a year or so after it had been identified that they were not correct.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Deputy. I concur that her ability to do maths is good and accept what she said. Although there was a significant reduction of 19% in the number of unallocated cases in 2016, that does not mean the target was reached. It was a self-imposed target, but I am aware that it was not reached. Additional funding of €4.2 million has been allocated for the recruitment of almost 70 social workers and to deal with legislative issues related to Children First, adoption and aftercare services. The target for the number of social workers at the end of 2017 is 1,675 whole-time equivalents, an increase of more than 200 on the number at the end of 2016. As the Deputy is aware, this is a key issue in dealing with unallocated cases. The target is still ambitious. Tusla is in the second year of a three-year plan.

On the 24-hour service, I am aware of the issue, as is Tusla. We hope that in time we will be able to improve it and move beyond the current arrangements.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I will pursue the other issue I raised as to how a case is closed. Is there a sign-off? Is there a management system in place, whereby it is stated a case is closed and information on it should not be in any arena? The Minister obviously knows that I am speaking about Sergeant McCabe. There should be a system in place, whereby Tusla ticks boxes to state an issue has been fully dealt with.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone What I will say in response to the Deputy's question is that there are systems now in place. As she is aware, I have requested a full review of the systems and processes of Tusla in connection with the issues which she has raised because I also have those concerns. We will scope the terms of reference. It is my intention that this piece of work will be done as quickly as possible.

Child Care Services Staff

 44. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone her views on reports that Ireland's child care sector is becoming financially unviable, particularly with regard to working conditions and pay for staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [7353/17]

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte What are the Minister's views on the report that Ireland's child care sector is becoming financially unviable, particularly with regard to the working conditions and pay for staff? She has covered some of it already, but I ask her to expand on what she said in reply to Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone Staff in the child care sector have a critical role to play in delivering high-quality child care services and deserve to be valued and respected for the important role they play with children. Because child care costs for parents in Ireland are among the highest in the OECD, we need to address the issues of affordability and quality at the same time. The Department is not an employer of child care workers, but it is a significant funder of child care services. I am very conscious that there is an issue with the pay and conditions of workers in the sector and the Department is engaging with the early years sector to explore how it can be addressed in the short, medium and long term.

The programme for Government commits to carrying out an independent review of the cost of providing quality child care, which probably has more to do with what will happen in the medium term. This commitment aligns closely with work on the design and development of a new single affordable child care scheme and we are progressing this work in that context. The review will feed into future policy development, including on levels of payments to services.

I am pleased that the previous two budgets delivered a 35% increase each year in funding for child care services. We need to continue to invest and I will argue for more resources in 2018. To go some way towards addressing cost pressures faced by providers in the sector, I have secured €10 million to enable them to be paid for non-contact time, when they will have no children present and will be able to pay staff to concentrate on the administrative workload. The services can decide how to use the payment when it is received. That is to happen in the short term.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte I thank the Minister. It is welcome that she has said she will argue for more funds. All of the child care providers and staff watching will be delighted to hear this. Representatives of Early Childhood Ireland, ECI, appeared before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs at its most recent meeting, as did Ms Marion Quinn from the Association of Childhood Professionals, ACP, and representatives of the city and county child care committees. ECI and the ACP stated they would have preferred if the review had been carried out before we went down the route of the affordable child care scheme. As someone who is committed and true to her word, the Minister has delivered on the objective of providing affordable child care, but people are still looking for the findings of the review. What exactly is its status? When can we expect to hear the results? Will they feed into the Minister's budgetary recommendations later this year?

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