Tusla to spend €2 million clearing backlog of requests for records

State agency has seen large surge in requests for access to personal records

Tusla is to spend €2 million clearing a large backlog of requests from people seeking copies of their personal records from the Child and Family Agency, ahead of an expected further surge of requests from adopted people.

The agency has seen an increase in adopted people seeking records about their birth and early life, as well as a rise in Freedom of Information act (FoI) and subject access requests from others seeking copies of their personal records held by Tusla.

The number of FoI requests made to Tusla increased from 93 in 2019, to 122 in 2020, and 396 last year. These include general requests from journalists and politicians, as well as individuals seeking copies of personal records.

The number of subject access requests for personal records sought under GDPR data protection laws similarly increased from 78 in 2019 to 401 last year.

Overall the number of FoI and subject access requests increased from 171 in 2019 to 797 in 2021, placing pressure on Tusla staff and leading to delays responding to requests.

The agency has approved a plan to clear the current backlog of requests over the next 12 months, according to minutes of a December, 17th 2021 board meeting released following a FoI request.

Bernard Gloster, Tusla chief executive, told the board clearing the current build-up of requests would prevent any "new backlog save in the most unforeseen exceptional circumstances".

It is expected the Birth Information and Tracing legislation making its way through the Oireachtas, to allow adopted people to access their full birth certs and other information, will lead to a significant increase in requests for records.

Senior Tusla officials are keen to clear the backlog of requests for records on hand, in anticipation of the increased workload from people seeking their adoption and birth records.

The plan to clear the existing backlog will begin by May at the latest and is to require more than €2 million in funding for extra resources, the board was told.

The meeting heard Mr Gloster had also approved “the continued building of sustainable internal capacity” to respond to future requests, minutes noted.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said the agency had seen a “substantial increase” in FoI and subject access requests in recent years.

There had been an increase in adopted people applying to Tusla seeking personal records, “partly associated with the publication of the Mother and Baby Homes report,” she said.

Tusla anticipated the Birth Information and Tracing Bill would come into effect later this year, she said.

Ahead of the expected surge in applications for records afterwards, Tusla is to hire 30 new staff in its adoption records service and set up a new central referral team to manage requests.

The plan to clear the backlog of existing requests for records would “ensure that our new system has the strongest possible chance of responding to current requests in a timelier fashion,” the spokeswoman said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times