Tusla signals emergency placements for children in care a key ‘risk’ for agency

Agency has increasingly had to rely on hotel rooms and B&Bs to house vulnerable young people

Tusla, the child and family agency, has said it is at risk of failing to meet required standards of care due to its increased reliance on “emergency” arrangements to house children in State care, such as hotel rooms and bed and breakfast accommodation.

The State child protection agency’s annual report, published on Wednesday, noted its use of emergency placements is one of the main risks it is facing.

Earlier this week, it emerged that retired Dublin District Court judge Dermot Simms had written to the Government and Tusla, criticising the “unprecedented crisis” facing the care system.

The May 17th, 2023 letter said up to 130 highly vulnerable children were in “unsuitable” and “unapproved” placements, such as holiday centres, hotels and B&Bs because there was nowhere else to put them.


Tusla has increasingly had to house children in care in these emergency placements, often due to a shortage of space in appropriate residential care homes, or due to the young person having incredibly complex needs.

The agency’s annual report said it had introduced greater oversight and monitoring of the special emergency arrangements.

Tusla had taken extra steps to “provide assurances” in terms of the qualifications and Garda vetting of staff on site when children were placed in the temporary arrangements, it said.

The report also said more than a quarter of open cases reported to Tusla were waiting for a social worker to be assigned to the child at the end of last year.

The agency had received 82,855 referrals of child protection or welfare concerns last year, it said.

At the end of the year about 22,000 cases were open, but 28 per cent of those cases had yet to be allocated a designated social worker.

Tusla said it prioritised cases where children required an immediate response, while cases on waiting lists yet to be allocated a social worker were monitored on a regular basis.

More than 800 children were taken into State care last year, 666 of those who had been admitted to care for the first time, the report said.

In total there were 5,755 children in care, with around nine out of ten of those living in foster care.

The report said the recruitment of foster carers remained a “significant challenge” for the agency.

The agency’s annual financial accounts detailed that its spending on legal settlements increased from €12,000 in 2021, to €70,000 last year.

Tusla spent €5.4 million on contracts that were not compliant with public value-for-money rules, as they did not go through a competitive process.

In a 15th June, 2023 note on the accounts, Seamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said Tusla continued to “incur significant expenditure” that did not meet proper public procurement standards.

Tusla’s spending on pay for agency workers increased from about €12 million to €16 million last year, the accounts show.

There were 1,612 social workers employed by Tusla at the end of last year, a drop of 57 compared to the number of social workers employed at the end of 2021.

Commenting on the report, chair of Tusla’s board, Pat Rabbitte, said the agency continued to be “challenged in ways that could not have been envisaged” when it was set up nearly a decade ago.

The former Labour Party minister said there was an increased demand on services, as well as an increased “complexity of need” from children referred to Tusla.

Large numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving in the State, as well as staffing pressures, had “resulted in further significant demand-led pressure on the agency”, he said.

The interim chief executive of Tusla, Kate Duggan, said the number of social workers graduating needs to rise from 200 to 500 per year. “We have a supply issue in Ireland with the number of social workers that are qualifying from third level universities this year,” Ms Duggan told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday.

“I understand there’s approximately 220 social workers graduating this year, 163 of those have been offered a permanent job in Tusla. We estimate that around 500 social workers need to be qualified every year to serve the requirement for that profession across sectors in Ireland.”

When asked how many social workers Tusla needs now, Ms Duggan said they would need 200 additional social workers to provide the services they would like.

Speaking on Wednesday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said “much more needs to be done” when it came to the Government’s work tackling the challenges facing vulnerable children.

“This is not just about one department, but there are a number of strategies to it,” she said. This included work underway in the Department of Justice, as well as the Department of Children, she said.

The Minister said her department had published a zero tolerance strategy a year ago aimed at tackling sexual and gender-based violence, which she said had a focus on women and children.

The Government was bringing forward a number of “key actions” for how it could support vulnerable young people, she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times