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 Header Item Departmental Expenditure (Continued)
 Header Item Child and Family Agency Staff

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone] Tusla will, in response to the performance statement, prepare a business plan for 2018 which will be submitted to me for consideration. The precise level of funding to be allocated for the roll-out of mandatory reporting will be considered by Tusla in preparing its business plan, having regard to the overall level of funding available in 2018.

I am pleased to make additional resources of €40.6 million available to Tusla in budget 2018. It will bring Tusla's financial allocation to just over €753 million in 2018. This level of funding will allow it to recruit additional staff, respond to identified risks and meet increased demands for services, including those arising from mandatory reporting. In particular, the financial allocation will allow Tusla to meet a number of key priorities in line with its obligations under the Children First legislation. It will include ensuring the appropriate internal systems are in place to deal with the intake of mandatory reports by Tusla and that a suite of resources will be available to support and assist all sectors in implementing the legislation.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte I thank the Minister for her response and welcome the €40.6 million in additional funding for Tusla which is to cover the cost of the roll-out of mandatory reporting and the roll-out of the nationwide out-of-hours social work service, as well as a further investment in family resource centres, including the opening of an additional 11 centres. My real concern centres on the fact that the CEO of Tusla, Mr. Fred McBride, said recently at a committee that evidence from other jurisdictions suggested mandatory reporting could increase the number of referrals to Tusla by 150%. He had sought an additional €38 million to support the roll-out of mandatory reporting. The Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, welcomed the Minister's announcement of mandatory reporting and while I wholeheartedly support her initiative, I believe there is not enough funding in place to support it. I would like to hear her views on Mr. McBride's remarks and his business plan.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I am open to correction, but it is my understanding, based on communications with my Secretary General, that Mr. McBride indicated that there could be a significant increase in the number of referrals to Tusla as a result of the roll-out of mandatory reporting. I understood it to be a 50% increase, as distinct from 150%, but we can take another look at that matter. It is Mr. McBride's job to identify where there is the potential for an increase, but at the same time, he is aware - we have had such discussions subsequent to this kind of exchange - that nobody knows exactly what the increase in the number of reports will be or what percentage of them will be substantiated. While potentially the increase could be as high as 150%, I do not expect it to be so, particularly because the Act identifies that, in the context of mandatory reporting, those reporting must have concerns that there is "significant harm" to a child, as distinct from the lower threshold that currently applies in the context of voluntary reporting. Given the raising of the threshold to a concern about "significant harm" to a child, it is my expectation that we are covering many children in the context of the voluntary reporting. There may be some increase, but it is my belief the additional resources I have secured for Tusla are sufficient. I further add that it is not just about resources; it is also about the processes by which Tusla takes in referrals.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte If I were to accept the 50% figure which I am more than willing to do, my other concern relates to the recruitment of staff. It is my biggest concern. The Minister's predecessor, Senator James Reilly, announced the recruitment of an additional 247 staff in 2015, but if one looks at the figures for the past 18 months, one will see that we are struggling to recruit the necessary staff. While it is levelling out a little, the introduction of mandatory reporting will bring about additional pressure. Will we be able to recruit and retain the staff needed to bring forward this very positive change? Tusla has had a very difficult 18 months, with one negative report after another. Mandatory reporting will now be on its table too. While the Minister may have provided enough funding for staffing in Tusla, what does she think about the wider recruitment issue?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Deputy has asked some excellent questions. In announcing the resources I shared a platform with Mr. McBride and we had a lot of discussions in that regard. He has identified that there are 305 people at various stages of recruitment; that Tusla is in the process of recruiting and ultimately employing the people concerned. In that context, there has been a lot of positive action in the context of Tusla's overall three-year plan to get the numbers it needs. It has been proactive and working extremely hard to recruit the necessary mix of team members and professionals. Of the aforementioned 305 people, 185 are social workers. A lot of work has been done to achieve that number of new recruits. In addition, the resources I am putting in place will ensure Tusla will be able to continue that recruitment to add an additional 300 workers.

Child and Family Agency Staff

 32. Deputy Denise Mitchell Information on Denise Mitchell Zoom on Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the measures or initiatives being undertaken to ensure the retention of highly skilled social workers within the Child and Family Agency; and the extra resources which will be allocated to recruit more social workers. [43810/17]

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire This follows neatly on from Deputy Anne Rabbitte's last question. It relates to Tusla and the initiatives being undertaken to ensure, in particular, the retention of social workers, as well as the resources required to recruit more social workers. This is obviously a very important issue. I welcome the additional moneys for Tusla which was one of the priorities identified in Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission. I am glad that the Minister has secured additional funding for Tusla. The question is focused on staff retention but also on the recruitment of staff.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I acknowledge that the recruitment and retention of social workers are among the biggest challenges for Tusla. Working in child protection is one of the most difficult tasks and I welcome the dedication of all professionals in Tusla who undertake this extremely important task.

  Tusla has worked hard to retain staff by developing a supportive working environment. Its overall turnover rate for social workers is about 7%, compared with 15% in the equivalent system in England.

  As part of its retention strategy, it has implemented an extensive continuous professional development strategy during 2016 and 2017. During 2016 social workers had more than 3,700 training course attendances as part of the strategy which commits to all social workers having a minimum of 21 hours for personal development plans and ten hours for engaging in continuous profession development.

  Tusla has also introduced a national transfer policy to facilitate staff who wish to relocate to another part of the country within its services, while ensuring the agency retains their valuable expertise.

  Tusla's health, well-being and employee assistance programme has a range of services available to staff, including a critical incident stress management team to support teams and individuals in the event of an traumatic event. The programme has just completed a staff retention survey and the findings will inform part of the new retention strategy for Tusla.

  Other supports for Tusla staff include rehabilitation services to support staff who are out of work owning to injury or illness.

  In addition to its retention measures, Tusla is putting a huge emphasis on recruitment. This includes an intensive graduate recruitment programme and a rolling programme to attract existing social workers.

  Budget 2018 provides for a significant increase in the funding allocation for Tusla. In 2018 there will be €753 million in funding available to Tusla, representing an increase of €40.6 million or 5.7% on the allocation in 2017. Since the establishment of the agency in 2014, its funding will have increased by €144 million or 23.6% in 2018.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire I thank the Minister for her response. This is not the first time a response from the Government has compared our system favourably with that in place in Britain or, specifically, England, but I do not think we should compare Ireland with England. The English social care system is in crisis and almost anything could be compared favourably with it.

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