Tusla got one child protection and welfare referral every ten minutes last year

Recruitment of staff continues to be particularly problematic, due to a shortage of appropriately qualified social workers

Up to 100 reports of child safety and welfare concerns are being filed daily through a new online portal, according to Tusla.

In its 2018 annual report published on Monday, the child and family agency said its online Tusla Portal, launched at the beginning of last year, had accumulated about 10,000 registered “reporters”, those who have come forward with claims and concerns.

This “digital front door” allows instant and secure submissions through an online form, after which follow up action can be taken if considered necessary. It said up to 100 such reports are received every day.

Tusla defines a reporter as anyone who makes a claim regarding a child protection or welfare concern. It said individual reports may be in relation to a unique case or there may be similar reports from various sources.

Overall last year the agency managed 55,136 child protection and welfare referrals, amounting to more than one referral every ten minutes, it said. Further to this, 24,211 children received family support services.

However, Tusla continues to struggle with certain operational challenges, staffing in particular.

The report notes that recruitment “continues to be particularly problematic, due to a shortage of appropriately qualified social workers” as well as “retention issues associated with the nature of child protection work”.

Ireland, it said, has a slightly above average risk-of-poverty rate for children, by EU measurements, at 25.2 per cent compared to 24.9 per cent.

It is also contending with an ongoing homelessness crisis. The report notes that by last December, 3,559 children were without homes, an increase of almost 300 per cent since the beginning of 2015. All of these factors weigh on its ability to deliver services.

Home education

Chairman Pat Rabbitte noted in his introductory remarks that the agency would continue to require funding increases in order to deliver on its responsibilities. The agency currently employs over 4,100 people with an annual budget of €750 million.

In 2018, 6,029 children were in its care, a decrease of 2.5 per cent on 2017, the vast majority of whom were placed in foster homes.

More than 1,400 children were registered for home education - a part of Tusla’s Education Welfare Service’s mandate is to ensure children receive sufficient education and last year it worked with over 6,000 children in that regard.

In the area of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, the agency funded 59 organisation helping victims. Of these, 22 emergency accommodation providers sheltered 155 families.

Much of Tusla’s work can be measured in progress against 2014 rates. In that time span the number of referral to child protection and welfare services rose from 43,630 to 55,136 while the number of children in care has dipped from 6,454 to 6,029. Inspections of early year service providers, such as crèches, rose from 1,326 to 2,513.

Ongoing improvement works have also been set out in its business plan. Last year some of those moves included a new out-of-hours services and the establishment of a project group to reduce the number of unallocated cases. A homeless liaison officer was also appointed.

In September, a four year NUI Galway study of Tusla found its culture was changing and that it was getting better at providing early help for children and families, the agency said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times