Lack of ‘consistency’ in how Tusla operates, says chief executive

Agency ‘some way off reaching a satisfactory level of GDPR compliance’, committee hears

Speaking before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Bernard Gloster described Tusla’s structure and organisation as ‘not good’ and warned that without changes, ‘many problems will continue to occur’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Speaking before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Bernard Gloster described Tusla’s structure and organisation as ‘not good’ and warned that without changes, ‘many problems will continue to occur’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

There is a lack of “consistency” in how Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, operates while its retention of staff remains a significant concern, the group’s chief executive has said.

Speaking before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Bernard Gloster described the agency’s structure and organisation as “not good” and warned that without changes, “many problems will continue to occur”.

“I’ve said many times, Tusla is an over-centralised, highly siloed out-of-date structure for what the agency is charged with doing,” said Mr Gloster. “There are many benefits to having a national agency but we do need to change the structure to try and achieve what we’re attempting to achieve.”

While staff retention rates have improved, Mr Gloster voiced concern around finding enough social workers to meet the national demand. Children who go through numerous social workers should not have to repeatedly tell their story to new case workers, he said.

He also warned that Tusla was “some way off reaching a satisfactory level of GDPR compliance” but noted that “no effort had been spared” in rolling out data protection training for frontline workers.

Rising referrals

Referrals to Tusla dropped from an average of 1,500 per week pre-Covid-19 to around 960 each week during the first lockdown, while homes visits for children was reduced to 30 per cent of normal levels, said Mr Gloster.

Referrals have now risen to 1,300 during the level 5 restrictions while home visits are “routinely happening”, he said. Most of the 5,900 children in receipt of care from Tusla are now receiving supports through remote technology, he added.

The recruitment of foster carers also remains a challenge with the agency recently completing its second annual campaign to encourage families to foster, he said. Some 194 new foster carers have been approved through Tusla in 2020 along with 26 private applications, compared to 226 in 2019, the committee heard.

Kate Duggan, Tusla’s national director of services and integration, said the number of unallocated cases “remains a significant challenge” but noted that 94 per cent of children had an allocated social worker and those without a social worker were been actively managed by Tusla services.

Ms Duggan also underlined the continued high demand for supports around domestic and sexual gender based violence during the pandemic.

Funding increase

State funding for sexual and gender based violence support through Tusla is set to increase to €30 million for 2021, up €5 million from this year. The majority of this will go to the 60 organisations operating directly with those affected by sexual and gender based violence while an additional €2 million is to be set aside to be used in response to challenges “that are not yet known in terms of Covid,” said Mr Gloster.

He noted that €30 million of the €60 million committed to Tusla in the 2021 budget would be spent on correcting the pre-existing deficit but that increased funding would also be used to deploy up to 120 additional frontline staff in 2021.

Asked to comment on Tusla’s failure to refer 365 cases of suspected child abuse in the Kerry area to gardaí for investigation, Ms Duggan said staffing problems and issues around “structure and practice” had played a role in the failure to notify the authorities.

On the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, Mr Gloster said Tusla wanted to give “maximum support to all people” regarding adoption information and would show “understanding and respect not only the rights but the needs of all”.