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 Header Item Child and Family Agency Staff (Continued)
 Header Item Child and Family Agency Funding

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire] So many of the issues, controversies and reports in recent years have been related to resourcing, while some have been related to social workers being overburdened with work and having unmanageable case loads. The issues surrounding child protection social workers seem to be particularly acute. The number of child protection social workers leaving the system was quite considerable when we discussed this issue about 12 months ago. What is the current retention rate in that specific category?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I will be happy to supply the Deputy with the details, but I do not have the specific information to hand. Picking up on his point about the system in place in England, I will also be happy to compare this jurisdiction with others, although I do not necessarily agree with him on the matter. The fact is that Tusla has been able to retain social workers. The current turnover rate is approximately 7%, which is very good, although we would obviously prefer it to be lower. Tusla is working on this, with particular reference to the retention programmes I have mentioned.

I understand the reason the Deputy is raising the issue of people working in the area of child protection. I have been encouraging Tusla to show leadership. Yes, we need social workers and to make their working environment more conducive. I have tried to identify some of the ways in which the organisation is supporting its staff in tha regard. At the same time, however, we need to move forward plans to ensure the mix of staff working in the area of child protection is the right one in order that social workers, social care workers, administrators and front-line staff are doing the jobs they have been trained to do. That will make the system more efficient.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire I take the Minister's point that turnover rate is currently at 7%. When we dealt with this issue 12 months ago, we were talking about losing 150 social workers a year, which was very significant. I would like to pass on some observations made to me by social workers on matters I have previously raised with Mr. Fred McBride at committee level. One was that there previously was a grade of advanced social work practitioner. This issue might perhaps be worth exploring. Another observation is on the centralised manner in which recruitment is carried out. There is a desire that this function be devolved to more local social work operations, with a desire to have more administrative staff. Given that the work involved in child protection is so intense, it might be worthy of its own grade. This issue might be examined in the context of employment conditions and pay. I do not necessarily have a settled view on it, but I am curious to hear the Minister's view.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone It is certainly a suggestion that could be entertained and I will be happy to communicate it to Tusla. The Deputy has clearly already raised the matter with the CEO, Mr. Fred McBride. His focus is on considering additional ways by which staff working on the front line with children who have experienced significant harm can be supported, which is good. Some of the questions have focused on how we can attract and retain staff. It concerns the ways in which social workers can see they will be supported and that their status will be accorded. It also concerns their conditions and pay, of course. I am well aware of these issues, as is senior management in Tusla which is looking for ways to continually improve in that regard. I think the Deputy's suggestions are worthy of consideration.

Child and Family Agency Funding

 33. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone the way in which the additional financial resources apportioned to Tusla announced in budget 2018 will be deployed. [43904/17]

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Deputy Jan O'Sullivan will take this question for Deputy Sherlock. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan As storm Ophelia was, unfortunately, quite hard on east Cork, Deputy Sean Sherlock is not able to be here. The question is very much related to the previous ones. It concerns the general way in which the additional financial resources apportioned to Tusla will be deployed.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I am fully aware of the difficulties in County Cork.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I have allocated an extra €40.6 million to Tusla for next year. This will bring its allocation to more than €753 million in 2018. It is higher than the extra €37 million allocated in 2017.

I will shortly issue Tusla with its 2018 performance statement in line with the provisions of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and it will then prepare a business plan for 2018, setting out its proposed main areas of spending.

I have already indicated to it that among my priorities for 2018 will be: actions to support mandatory reporting under Children First from 11 December this year; addressing the gaps in out-of-hours services; and further investment in family resource centres in local communities that deliver services to families, especially in disadvantaged areas across the country.

I am pleased that the extra funding secured will also allow Tusla to recruit over 300 staff, reduce the number of unallocated cases, improve ICT and advance developments in areas such as domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, adoption, aftercare, and homelessness supports.

I am pleased to be able to support Tusla in this way in a major programme of service development and reform.

A more specific breakdown of funding happens in the process of preparing a business plan. More generally, however, I can say approximately €15 million will support existing services which also concerns recruitment. A further €10 million will be used to build up front-line service capacity and recruit 140 staff in critical areas, including the management of unallocated cases; aftercare and special care services. These are just some of the breakdowns I could offer to the Deputy.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan Like my colleagues who spoke previously, I, too, am very concerned to ensure a significant number of social workers will be recruited specifically in the area of child protection. The Minister gave the figure of 185 social workers going through the recruitment process. I know that last year the goal of achieving a 60% reduction in cases to 2,700 by the end of 2016 was not, in fact, reached. Perhaps the Minister might give us an indication as to where we are in that regard.

I am not sure if my next question falls under the heading of Tusla or whether it comes directly under the auspices of the Minister's Department, in which case she may not be able to answer it today. Last year the Department had to step in to assist with ABC programmes because of funding difficulties. The Minister will be familiar with this issue from her constituency. I am very concerned to ensure the programmes will be able to continue because of the work done in disadvantaged communities, in particular. Will funding be allocated to support children who are homeless? Again, as I am not sure if this comes within the remit of Tusla, I may be straying from the question.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone On children living in emergency accommodation, the same supports will be available to them as they move from hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation into family hubs. Tusla does have some responsibilities in that regard. There has been a lot of investment in family resource centres throughout the country. Existing centres will be able to apply for up to €10,000 in additional funding for their work in 2018 and we will also initiate 11 new centres.

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