Tusla unwilling to ‘stand over’ children in unregulated accommodation

Demand on child and family agency services has doubled in past 10 years

Tusla does not want to continue to “stand over” children in State care being housed in unregulated emergency accommodation, the chief executive of the child and family agency has said.

Kate Duggan, Tusla chief executive, said there had been major increases in demand on the agency’s services in recent years.

A rise in cases where children in care’s existing placements broke down, as well as growing numbers of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, meant a cohort of young people were living in special emergency arrangements (SEAs).

Last month, there were 174 children in these special emergency arrangements, such as B&Bs, hotels or rented properties, often as there was no suitable place available with foster carers or in group care homes run by Tusla or contracted private companies. Two-thirds of this group of children were unaccompanied minors who had arrived in the Republic seeking asylum.


Speaking on Tuesday, Ms Duggan said these emergency placements were expensive, often located far from where the child lived, and were not regulated by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), which inspects Tusla services.

“The unregulated nature, in that they’re not regulated by Hiqa currently, is not something that we want to continue to stand over,” she said at an event in Dublin Castle to mark 10 years since Tusla was set up as a stand-alone agency.

Tusla was looking to build more “emergency capacity” with foster carers or in the number of group care homes, she said. “We’re working really hard to build that capacity, but we’re doing it in the context of a housing crisis,” she said.

The number of referrals made to Tusla about children had doubled to 90,000 a year in the past decade, she said.

Marissa Ryan, chief executive of Epic, an organisation which advocates for children in care, told a panel talk she had “immense concern” about the long-term impacts of children living in special emergency arrangements.

It was important that standards were not lowered as a response to a “crisis situation”, Dr Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, said at the talk.

Despite years of criticism it seemed the State was still operating in “silos” when responding to children in need, he said. Recent years had seen cases where various agencies meant to be co-operating had failed “on a huge scale”, he said.

Kevin McCarthy, secretary general of the Department of Children, told the event the “increasing polarisation of views” and growing divisions in society were leading to a “real erosion of trust” in institutions. In future, this would be a big issue for Tusla, given its interactions with vulnerable families could already be “very difficult”, he said.

Addressing the event, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said Tusla had faced huge challenges in recent years, which it had risen to meet. These included the “nightmare scenario” of the Covid-19 pandemic, where social workers’ face-to-face access to children and families was restricted, he said.

Despite weathering criticism in the past, Mr O’Gorman said during his tenure as Minister, Tusla had “never caused me or this Government a moment of concern”.

Former minister Pat Rabbitte, the current chair of Tusla’s board, said when the agency was set up in 2014 the State’s finances were at their lowest point, but in the years since the organisation had made huge strides. “There were bumps along the way, like all children, the agency had to learn to crawl before it could walk,” he said.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times