Minister warned supports for young could face ‘draconian’ cuts

Child and Family Agency’s board expressed concerns at critical underfunding

Child and Family Agency chief executive Gordon Jeyes confirmed last weekend the agency was in discussion with the Department of Children on measures required to save up to €18 million this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The board of the Child and Family Agency privately warned the Minister for Children that funding pressures could lead to "draconian" cuts to vital supports for young people at risk.

Internal documents show the agency’s board was told a budget of less than €650 million in 2015 would lead to serious reductions in several areas.

The Government went on to allocate a budget last December which the agency estimates fell €18 million short of meeting day-to-day spending needs for child and family services.

In a letter to Dr James Reilly in advance of the budget, the board expressed concern over financial pressures.


"The board is particularly exercised by the consequences of these pressures on the agency's capacity to manage risk in 2015 and fulfil its vital statutory remit which is centred on protecting and improving wellbeing and outcomes for children," wrote Norah Gibbons, the board's chairperson.

Child safety in balance

She said the agency had been established to reform services for children and families and a strong start had been made to improve outcomes.

But it had been “critically underfunded” from the beginning in terms of staff, support and legal services.

“Many services provided by the agency are not discretional and must be delivered if children are to be kept safe,” Ms Gibbons wrote.

If funding pressures were not recognised, she warned of “draconian reductions” in community-based services.

These included family and community services; domestic violence services and refuges; sexual abuse clinics and rape crisis centres; counselling; and school completion services.

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

The agency's chief executive Gordon Jeyes confirmed last weekend it was in discussion with the Department of Children on measures required to save up to €18 million this year.

While half could be achieved through “management efficiencies”, the rest is likely to come from reductions or reforms in community services and other activities.

He said he hoped reductions in services would be kept to a minimum though reforms to the way the agency buys support from partner agencies.

Beyond survival

“If we’re going to move from survival to sustainability, we need to be better resourced,” he said. “There are improvements taking place, staff are getting their confidence back, but to move to success, the agency will need a broader base.”

In response to Ms Gibbons’s letter, Mr Reilly said he believed there needed to be an incremental approach to building the capacity and reputation of the agency.

“Over the course of 2015, I believe there is a further opportunity to position the organisation well for further future investment and to build a sustainable, high quality delivery model as envisaged in the Programme for Government.

“While this may not meet all of our aspirations in the short term, I am confident it will give sufficient scope to continue the strong start the board and executive have made, and lay important foundations for the future.”

The agency has a budget of €631 million in day-to-day spending in 2015, and a further €12 million in capital funding. This is an increase of almost 6 per cent over last year.

Latest figures show more than 8,000 abuse, neglect and welfare concerns over children at risk are waiting to be allocated a social worker.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent