Zappone and Harris in standoff over €4m for disability care

Tusla and HSE at odds over who should pay for care of 34 vulnerable young adults

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has written a series of letters to Minister for Health Simon Harris (above). Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has written a series of letters to Minister for Health Simon Harris (above). Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Two Government Ministers are engaged in a stand-off over which of their departments should pay for the care of vulnerable young people after they turn 18. Up to €4 million in annual funding is at issue.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has written a series of letters to Minister for Health Simon Harris seeking the full implementation of a deal reached between the Health Service Executive and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which their departments agreed would be effective from January 2018.

A “disability protocol”, finalised in February 2017, was drawn up following criticism in a number of reports of the care provided for young people who have intellectual disabilities, particularly regarding gaps in protection for children after they turn 18.

The departments and their agencies agreed the HSE would take over from Tusla in paying for their residential placements in March 2018.

However, Tusla continues to have to fund the placements at an annual cost of €3-€4 million, to the increasing frustration of Ms Zappone.

In April, she asked Mr Harris in a letter, obtained under freedom of information, to instruct the HSE to refund the money due to Tusla from the date agreed in the protocol.

Appealing to Mr Harris to deal with the matter personally, she wrote: “After more than two years of meetings, exchanges and correspondence, it is time to resolve this matter with a direction from you to the HSE.”

Ms Zappone said more than €3.2 million was not available to Tusla for the needs of children because the promised funding had not been provided.

Challenging

In reply Mr Harris said he shared his Cabinet colleague’s frustration but added that it was “extremely challenging” for the HSE to identify new funding for the placements from its existing allocation.

The Department of Children had changed its estimates of the costs involved twice, he said.

The HSE has tried twice to obtain money for the placements in the estimates process, but without success.

An internal briefing suggests there are 34 young adults requiring support from the HSE’s disability services. Twenty of these are living with foster parents or living independently or in supported lodgings. Tusla says five will require residential placement if their current care arrangement breaks down.

One young person is at risk of being made homeless if their current care arrangement ceases.