Department of Health seeks cuts in Child and Family Agency

Tusla is struggling to respond to needs of thousands of children at risk of abuse and neglect

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of the Child and Family Agency/Tusla, said an additional €45 million was required next year just to keep services at a standstill. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of the Child and Family Agency/Tusla, said an additional €45 million was required next year just to keep services at a standstill. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Department of Health has privately lobbied for staffing numbers at the Child and Family Agency to be cut, internal documents show.

Staff transferred from the Health Service Executive to the new agency when it was formally established on January 1st of this year. But records show officials at the department were surprised at the large number of full-time staff – slightly more than 3,700 – that were due to be transferred to the body at the end of last year.

In correspondence with the Department of Public Expenditure earlier this summer, officials at the Department of Health said it had not voiced its objections as a result of “a number of miscommunications” as well as “severe staff shortages and pressure of work”.

Ultimately, the department has estimated that just fewer 3,400 staff ended up being transferred to the new body. However, the HSE had been told to reduce its employment ceiling – or staffing levels – by the earlier 3,700 figure.

“It is already clear that the ceiling transferred from the HSE to the Child and Family Agency is too high and needs to be revised downwards, even on a provisional basis,” an official at the Department of Health’s human resources unit wrote.

 

‘Substantial recruitment’

“The numbers which have transferred indicate that the Child and Family Agency are carrying a ceiling which is substantially higher than their actual numbers, paving the way for substantial recruitment into the agency.”

 

By contrast, it added, the HSE had been allocated an “unachievable” employment ceiling.

“The department would also argue that the new agency must bear a proportionate share of the unmet ceiling reduction for 2013 and the ceiling reduction envisaged for the HSE in 2014.”

The records were released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Any proposal to seek staffing cuts at the Child and Family Agency would be highly controversial given the pressures facing the organisation.

Campaigners say frontline services and child protection staff are often operating against a backdrop of scarce resources, staff shortages and dangerously heavy caseloads.

More than 9,000 cases of abuse, neglect or welfare concerns over children at risk were waiting to be allocated a social worker. More than 3,000 of these cases are classified as “high priority”.

In advance of the most recent budget, the Child and Family Agency’s chief executive Gordon Jeyes said an additional €45 million was required next year just to keep services at a standstill.

He said that services had been cut to the bone and there was little scope for further cost savings.

 

Additional funding

However, the agency was allocated just over half that amount in additional funding in last month’s budget.

 

The failure to increase the budget significantly may result in cuts to family support services, vital prevention work and other frontline services.

Overall, the agency has a budget of just more than €600 million. Under a legal agreement with the HSE and other services, it has inherited liabilities of about €25 million.