Media has ‘absurd’ views on child protection, Tusla chief claims

Fred McBride says social care workers cannot ‘eradicate all risks’ to children

The chief executive of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, has criticised the media’s expectations of child protection workers. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Media expectations of what child protection workers could or should achieve were "utterly absurd", the chief executive of the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), Fred McBride, has said.

Mr McBride made the comment while delivering the keynote address at the annual conference of Social Care Ireland, the representative body of social care workers in Co Kildare on Thursday.

Mr McBride said social workers could not “eradicate all risk” to children but must work with families to minimise and manage risk.

He said more responsibility for their children must be demanded of families. This would build resilience in families, increase parents’ confidence and improve outcomes.


He was speaking after a case was highlighted by RTÉ this week, in which a young girl in respite care with a foster family alleged she had been abused by a then 18-year-old member of that family.

Health Service Executive (HSE) inquiries found the girl's claims to be "credible" and she was removed from the family.

Two other foster children remained with the family on the basis that the alleged abuser was not to have unsupervised contact with them.


In an interview on RTÉ Radio’s News At One on Wednesday, Mr McBride was challenged by interviewer

Audrey Carville

when he said that removing a child from foster care due to a risk of abuse could cause additional trauma.

The focus should be on removing or minimising the risk, rather than removing a child, he said.

At Thursday’s conference, he said: “We must embrace and manage risk. Those of you who heard the media coverage over that last couple of days . . . They’re not very keen on the notion of managing risk.

“They’d much rather we eradicate risk completely, which of course is an utterly, utterly absurd proposition.

“There are risks in every aspect of life. There is dignity in taking risks. We all take risks every day. Why on earth would we think the families we work with shouldn’t take some risks?

“We take away their risks, we take away their dignity. There’s a bit of education to be done with the media, certainly in Ireland, in helping them understand we’re in the risk management business. We’re not in the risk eradication business.”

Change of approach

Mr McBride, who has been in the post for six weeks, said he wanted to radically change Tusla’s approach.

He said the agency had been “paternalistic”, “risk averse” and had taken power from families, focusing too much on managing budgets and services and insufficiently on “building resilience and wellbeing” in families.

He said he wanted Tusla to work confidently with families to "co-produce" solutions, overcome challenges and take risks.

This would strengthen vulnerable parents’ confidence and relationships.

The greatest number of children in care were aged 17, he said.

“I suspect [with] some of the 16- and 17-year-olds taken into care, we have taken the line of least resistance with the parents.

“So the 16-year-old is doing the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll thing. It gets a bit risky. Mum can’t cope, says, ‘This is way too risky’, and social worker says, ‘Yeah, you’re right, it is too risky, let’s get him out’.

“And he’s in care for one, two, three years.

“We should be saying to parents, ‘No, we’re not taking this responsibility from you. We are going to help you meet your responsibilities and we’ll do that with intensive supports.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times