Tusla spending to house children in hotels and B&Bs doubles

Concern mounts that agency service for finding overnight emergency accommodation for children ‘in crisis’

The amount spent by Tusla housing children in hotels or bed and breakfasts overnight doubled last year, as no other accommodation was available.

The State child and family agency spent more than €200,000 housing children in hotels or B&Bs last year, up significantly from €87,000 spent in 2020, according to new figures obtained by The Irish Times.

Tusla runs an out-of-hours service to find shelter for young people overnight in emergency cases, for example where gardaí remove a child from a home due to immediate concerns for their safety.

The pressure on the out-of-hours service has continued to increase, with children needing emergency accommodation 755 times in the first quarter of this year, up 57 per cent on the same period in 2021.

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One senior source working in out-of-hours services warned the continued increases in demand were putting serious pressure on the system. Another source described the service as having reached “crisis point”, due to shortages of alternative, suitable housing.

Internal Tusla correspondence, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, shows senior management discussed concerns about the service becoming stretched in recent months.

In a July 11th email, Tusla director of services Kate Duggan told agency chief executive Bernard Gloster that “additional capacity” was needed in residential and foster care.

Ms Duggan said she had taken “immediate actions” in response to concerns and commissioned a review of the out-of-hours service, which is expected to be completed by the start of next year. The senior official said efforts were also under way to strengthen the “governance and oversight of placements”.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said when young people were placed in emergency accommodation they were “supported by staff on site”, while a social worker looked for more appropriate housing.

Foster carers

In a “small number” of cases every month young people were accommodated in hotels or B&Bs, as staff were unable to find space in residential homes for children in care, or with foster carers, she said.

“The rise in demand for placements, combined with the increase in case complexity is reflected in the increased spend on emergency accommodation,” she said. The spokeswoman added that Tusla spending on emergency accommodation also included staff costs.

Sinn Féin spokeswoman on children Kathleen Funchion said putting children in hotels or B&Bs was “unsuitable” and showed “the system is broken”.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the number of places in Tusla-run care homes was “wholly inadequate”, leading the State to fail incredibly vulnerable children.

Tusla sought feedback from staff in May about its out-of-hours service, which heard that while it was “very beneficial”, there were gaps in the service. Staff reported often having to work “late into the night to ensure placements are found” for children, who then might need to be driven long distances to the accommodation.

An internal document listing the feedback said staff felt the service was “not always child friendly”, with children sometimes left waiting “long into the night” before a bed was found.

There was a “lack of sufficient capacity” in accommodation, particularly outside of the greater Dublin area, the document said. The changeover between social work teams and the out-of-hours service was also “inefficient”, staff reported.

Overall the costs of placing children in emergency accommodation tripled to more than €3 million last year, between increased demand on private out-of-hours hostels for under-18s and a growing reliance on B&B and hotel accommodation.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times