Concern over possible closure of homes for children in care

Staff fret about job losses at residential care firm after failure to be reappointed to panel

There are concerns a company running a large number of residential homes for children in State care may have to close several facilities, which would cause disruption to many vulnerable young people.

Positive Care, one of the largest providers of residential care for children on behalf of child and family agency Tusla, has not been reappointed to a panel of providers to receive referrals of children, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Staff have raised concerns the decision may lead to a funding shortfall and the closure of up to half of the residential homes run by the company. This could potentially lead to the loss of more than 100 jobs.

It is understood the company has recently appealed the result of the procurement process for appointment to the panel to Tusla. There is significant concern internally for the company’s financial future if the appeal is unsuccessful.

Tusla contracts several private firms to run residential and foster care services for children in State care. The agency’s reliance on private providers has increased significantly in recent years as demand for more care placements has grown.

Positive Care runs about 15 homes for children and young adults across eight counties. It employs 270 staff.

It received €15.8 million from Tusla to run residential care homes in 2020, the highest paid private provider that year, according to figures previously released to The Irish Times.

Sharon Kenneally, the manager of one of the company’s residential units in Youghal, Co Cork, wrote to TDs on Thursday raising concerns over possible job losses.

Ms Kenneally said as a result of the unsuccessful tender bid to Tusla the provider is facing the possibility up to eight care homes would have to close. This would likely lead to “mass redundancies” with more than 100 people at risk of losing their jobs, she said.

Any closures would cause serious disruption to the vulnerable young people living in the homes, who would be “ripped” from their communities and carers if relocated, she said.

The correspondence, seen by The Irish Times, stated there is a “national placement crisis” at present, which she said is already leaving children in State care accommodated in hotels.

Positive Care did not respond to requests for comment on the result of its bid for the Tusla contract, or about potential closures.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said the agency is “not in a position to comment on procurement processes where timelines have not yet concluded”.

Young people

Tusla was in discussions with one provider “on issues regarding future placements of young people”, she said. “We don’t anticipate being in a position to comment further until late in April when we have answers to a number of questions,” she added.

“We are however clear in all matters relating to placements that the primary objective is the continued care of the young people,” said the spokeswoman.

Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster previously committed the agency to reducing its reliance on private providers of residential care.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD said clarity is needed on what would happen to children accommodated by the company.

“I imagine the refusal of tender to the Positive Care company may be part of a wider policy shift towards phasing out private residential care, on the part of the State,” he said.

If young people are forced to move as a result of any change the upheaval to their lives would be “unfathomable”, he added.

There are more than 5,800 children in State care at present, with about 780 accommodated by private providers, either in foster or residential care.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times