Social worker panels to ensure child protection work carried out safely

Estimated annual cost of panels €3.2 million

Panels of child social workers are to be established across the State to provide maternity leave cover and reduce “serious” staff shortages in the sector.

Panels of child social workers are to be established across the State to provide maternity leave cover and reduce “serious” staff shortages in the sector.

Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 01:01



Panels of child social workers are to be established across the State to provide maternity leave cover and reduce “serious” staff shortages in the sector.

The plans are being drawn up by the new Child and Family Agency, according to its chief executive designate Gordon Jeyes.

He said such panels were necessary to ensure the HSE complied with its legal obligations under the Child Care Act to protect at-risk children.

Shortages of social workers in the child-protection area were an “ongoing serious problem”, he said. There was a particular problem with maternity leave, given the age profile of the predominantly female workforce and the lack of a budget to provide cover when a woman went on leave.

Health economist
“We in the agency have been working with a health economist and we have drawn up a business plan for the establishment of panels across the country, of fully trained, fully Garda-vetted social workers. It is being put to the HSE.”

Such panels would mean that when a woman went on leave, an area manager could replace her quickly. Currently no cover is provided for maternity leave. “But just because a social worker goes on leave, their case-load doesn’t go away,” said Mr Jeyes.

According to the business plan, as of May 31st this year 68 per cent of social workers were aged between 20 and 45 years and mainly female and 87 social workers were on maternity leave. The cost of replacing them, assuming they each took leave of just 26 weeks, would be €3,221,462, says the plan.

The proposal comes as figures were published this week showing the number of child- protection and welfare concerns reported to authorities had almost doubled from 21,000 in 2006 to 40,000 last year.

In July the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said staff shortages in social care were affecting the HSE’s capacity to deliver a safe fostering service, pointing out that many children in care did not have an allocated social worker.