Update: Children at Risk, 4th August 2015

4th August 2015 - Bernard Durkan TD


DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. James Reilly)
by Deputy Bernard J. Durkan
for WRITTEN ANSWER on 08/07/2015  

 *  To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the full extent of the facilities currently available to protect children at risk; the number of referrals to the appropriate bodies recorded in the past two years; the extent to which any backlogs occur; if he expects to make further provision in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

                                                                         Bernard J. Durkan T.D.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency holds the statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection, and is the appropriate body to receive reports of concerns relating to children at risk.

Each referral received by the Agency is assessed and dealt with on an individual basis by the relevant social work team.  Preliminary screening is aimed at establishing the appropriateness of the referral to Tusla services and if necessary is followed by an initial assessment of the concern to determine the best course of action for the child and their family.  At any stage, if a determination is made that there is abuse, whether physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, from which there is an ongoing risk of significant harm, the child protection pathway is followed.   This may lead to the child being placed on the child protection notification system (CPNS).  An Garda Siochana are responsible for any investigations of a criminal nature.  Children First guidelines provide for the formal notification by Tusla where abuse is suspected and, where it has not been possible to establish grounds for a formal report, the guidelines indicate that an informal consultation is encouraged to protect the welfare of the child.  Tulsa has a number of local offices in each of its 17 administrative areas.  Information for Tusla’s services, including contact numbers, is available on its website and locally.  

Provisional figures for 2014 show that there were 43,179 referrals of child protection and welfare concerns received by Tusla in 2014.  This is an increase on the total number of referrals received in 2013, which stands at 41,599.   The majority of referrals, almost 58%, are in relation to child welfare concerns, with the remaining 42% relating to child protection. Referrals can come from a number of sources so there are some duplicates in these totals, and some will be more appropriate for more universal services, such as those provided in the education or health sectors.  Also, not all referrals will result in a need for a social work service or in a child being received into care.  As a result, every year, approximately 50% of referrals can be expected to proceed from preliminary enquiry to the initial assessment stage.

An open case is one which is assessed as needing a dedicated (allocated) social work service. Of the total number of open cases at the end April, 20,417 had an allocated social worker and 7,965 were waiting to be allocated a social worker.  The number of cases waiting to be allocated a social worker is an issue that is being addressed by Tusla. The priority or category of high, medium or low given to the case after a preliminary enquiry, is based on information received. It is important to note that “high priority” should not simply be equated with risk. Social work duty teams keep high priority cases under review by regular checking to ascertain risk to the child, and where necessary will reprioritise the case.    At the close of April 2015, the number of children in care was reported as 6,420 children, of whom 93% were in a foster care setting.  The number of children in care represents just under 23% of the total of 28,382 open cases reported by Tusla at the end of April. A national review of cases waiting allocation of a social worker is at an advanced stage.  I expect that this will be submitted to me shortly and this will inform the overall approach by Tusla for the budget and deployment of social work staff.  

In addition to services provided by Tusla and its own complaints mechanism in which specific issues may be raised, the child welfare and protection services are overseen by independent bodies.  This includes the Ombudsman for Children, the Health Information and Quality Authority, in terms of inspections, and CORU, which regulates health and social care professionals.  My Department also maintains regular contact with a range of non-governmental bodies to consult on any particular areas of interest or concern that may arise in the sector.  Work is proceeding to ensure that all high priority cases receive a timely and effective service in this demand led service.

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