Residential care charities threatened with 20% funding cut unless service level agreements are signed

Charities have held off signing amid ongoing efforts to persuade Tusla to review funding arrangements

A spokeswoman for Tusla said the agency 'values the role that the community and voluntary sector plays in the provision of services'. Photograph: Alan Betson

Voluntary organisations providing residential care to some of the most vulnerable children face the largest funding cuts in their history amid a stand-off with Tusla.

A total of 13 charities, including Crosscare, Focus Ireland and Don Bosco Care, were last week threatened with a 20 per cent cut unless they signed their 2023 service level agreements (SLAs). The SLAs were due to be signed by the end of January.

In an email to one of the organisations last Thursday, seen by The Irish Times, Tusla’s national office said it was “imperative” they sign this year’s SLA “today”.

“The deadline has now passed so it needs to be signed as a matter of urgency. Failure to do so will result in a 20 per cent cut in your funding as advised by the board of management in Tusla,” the email said.

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While some of the 13 charities, which are members of the Voluntary Care Collective (VCC), signed the agreements, “around half” have not, said Terry Dignan, VCC chair and director of services with Don Bosco Care.

They have held off on signing amid ongoing efforts to persuade Tusla to review funding arrangements which mean their staff are paid “significantly less” than their public sector colleagues in Tusla, and than those in private providers, Mr Dignan said.

He said private operators are being paid “on average” €2,000 a week more, per child, per week than voluntary providers.

Since May 2022 the VCC, which provide almost 20 per cent of residential care beds and employ 400, have written to Tusla six times stating their concerns, “with no meaningful response”. They say they are haemorrhaging staff and running increasing deficits, potentially putting them in breach of company law.

The voluntary providers’ funding situation follows their redesignation in 2013, under section 56 of the Child Care Act 2013 which established Tusla. Previously they had been designated as care providers under section 37 and 38 of the Health Act 2004, which then meant they were funded by the HSE and their workers guaranteed parity with their public sector colleagues.

“Despite the Government paying the salaries of all voluntary care staff, the Government continues to insist there is no employment relationship between the State and voluntary providers,” said Mr Dignan.

Meanwhile, he noted, while Tusla increased funding to for-profit private care providers by €33.6 million between 2016 and 2019, the increase to the voluntary sector was just €1.6 million.

“It raises profound concerns about Tusla’s long-term strategy for the community sector,” said Mr Dignan. “If we don’t sign they immediately cut 20 per cent of our funding. If we continue to not sign they will continue to look at cutting our funding.

“Historically there has been a 5 per cent penalty if we were late signing. This 20 per cent is out of the blue. They’ve never cut like this before.”

A spokeswoman for Tusla said the agency “values the role that the community and voluntary sector plays in the provision of services”.

“In line with the requirements of the allocation of public money, an SLA must be signed on an annual basis, by the end of January, between the agency and the provider to agree the level of service and funding to be provided in respect of same for the current year,” the spokeswoman said.

“Tusla is acutely aware of the pressures the sector are facing in relation to pay and sustainability... In 2022 we allocated an additional 4 per cent funding to all community and voluntary organisations. We continue to advocate for the sector in relation to pay restoration.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times