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Priority Questions - Health Service Staff

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 765 No. 3

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 91.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  the number of social workers currently employed in the area of child protection and the way this compares to the number employed by the Health Service Executive at the start of 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24001/12]

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The HSE compiles a monthly census of employment in the public health and social care sector. The latest data available are in respect of March, 2012. They show the total number of social workers employed in the HSE and in directly funded agencies was 2,397 whole-time equivalents, WTEs. The equivalent figure at the end of 2010 was 2,432 [231]WTEs. It is important to note these figures apply to all social workers employed by the HSE, and by a range of other public and publicly funded bodies, to fulfil a range of roles, some of which fall outside the child welfare and protection services. For example, social workers are employed in hospitals to assist patients and families with the social aspects of their illness, in the mental health services, in primary care and in relation to older people.

The employment census also provides a breakdown of staffing levels by care group. In the case of social workers employed in the children and family area, the figures indicate there were 1,183 WTEs employed at the end of 2010 and 1,197 WTEs at the end of March 2012. That shows an increase of 14 WTEs since the 31 December 2010. It should be noted the classification by care group is viewed by the HSE and the Department as provisional and is subject to ongoing revision and refinement as part of the process of disaggregating the children and family resource base from the HSE prior to the establishment of the new children and family support agency.

The latest available information from the HSE indicates that 31 social work staff in the child and family services area availed of the recent early retirement scheme. Other vacancies have also arisen, as they would in the normal course of events. The national director of children and families services, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, will apply his discretion over the course of the year to the filling of vacancies, having regard to identified need and subject to services being delivered within available resources. I can advise the Deputy the HSE has informed me it has approved the recruitment of 57 replacement social worker staff across all care group areas since January 2012. These posts are at various stages of recruitment. While vacancies will always arise and will need to be filled, the overall trend is clear. The number of social workers employed in child and family services is increasing.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I am somewhat taken aback by the Minister’s response because the figures she gave me indicate what I have been trying to ascertain from her on a number of occasions in the past year, namely, that the number of social workers has decreased under her watch. There are fewer social workers now than when the Minister took office. That is despite the Minister coming to the House on several occasions to reassure us that 200 additional social workers would be employed last year. She assured us repeatedly that would happen. The Minister said the social workers were at various stages of recruitment and they would be in place by the end of the year. In May 2012 the Minister has come to the House to confirm there are 35 fewer social workers in place now than there were at the start of last year. Specifically in the area of child protection there are just 14 more. An additional 200 additional social workers were supposed to have been recruited. That has not happened and the situation is that there are fewer social workers than when the Minister took office.

An article by Kitty Holland in The Irish Times today refers to comments by the head of child and family services in the Health Service Executive, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, regarding a report by Professor Bairbre Redmond of UCD on retaining social workers in our system. Mr. Jeyes observes that social workers “cannot do everything currently expected of them” and refers to the problems being caused by limited resources. I asked the Minister on several occasions about the impact on reporting numbers arising from implementation of the Children First guidelines, the draft heads of a Bill now in committee. Neither the Minister nor her Department has made an impact assessment of the additional burden this will place on the system in a context where there are now fewer social workers than when the Minister took office, despite her undertaking to recruit 200 additional staff in accordance with the recommendations of the Ryan report. There is serious cause for concern in the figures the Minister has presented today.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell Does the Deputy have a question for the Minister?

[232]Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue There must be an impact assessment of the implementation of the Children First guidance in order to ensure the system is equipped to deal with the likely increase in the number of reports arising from it. An article in The Irish Times last week by Professor Helen Buckley indicated that the number of reports increased from 9,000 in 2000, of which 3,000 were substantiated as cases of abuse——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell If the Deputy wishes to receive a reply from the Minister, he should give way now.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue ——to 26,000 in 2009, with the number substantiated remaining at 3,000. That increase is likely to continue, yet the Minister is making no allowance for resourcing the system to meet it. This could well lead to a service that is overburdened and which puts children at risk.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Minister has approximately 20 seconds to reply.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The trend in the recruitment of social workers is upward. Staff for the 60 posts I indicated would be filled last year have been recruited.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue They are not in place.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Yes, they are. The Deputy is misunderstanding the figures. It should be noted that there is a difference between recruitment and retention, as pointed out in a report published on Monday. A total of 220 social workers have been recruited, including those recommended in the Ryan report, but there is a range of issues affecting the overall allocation, including an ongoing process of replacement. In any group of 1,000 workers——

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue There are supposed to be 200 additional workers.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald They are in place. I am trying to explain what happens in a normal workforce of 1,000——

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue It is a charade. There are fewer social workers in place now than at the beginning of last year.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Deputy must allow the Minister to reply.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald In a normal workforce of 1,000 there will be significant movement in and out of the service. Women comprise some 87% of the social worker cohort we are discussing, most of them under 40 years of age. A number of them will inevitably go on maternity leave and there are also people who have left the service to go abroad, take up other employment and so on. In addition, there are some who were previously employed on a temporary basis who have since, in accordance with the Ryan report recommendations, taken up permanent posts. In short, the overall trend is upward, the recruitment promised has been undertaken and it is a continuous process. There is constant movement in the figures, but overall——

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Have 57 or 200 been recruited?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Deputy is being very unfair to Deputy Mick Wallace who is next in line.

[233]Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Let us not argue about specific figures. It is important that we consider the broad range of issues that affect a workforce of 1,000. As part of the recruitment process under way, an additional 57 staff are being recruited. Most of these will work in child protection, the allocation for which has already increased by 14.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Minister’s explanation does not stand up.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I need the Deputy to understand clearly——

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I understand the situation very well.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I do not accept that the Deputy does. The recruitment has been completed, but there have been 31 retirements. Mr. Jeyes can, at his discretion, replace those who have retired.


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