Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 10 December 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children
Update on Child and Family Services: Tusla
I welcome viewers who are watching us at home and on the Internet and I thank the members for being here this morning. I welcome to the meeting Mr. Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla, who is joined by Mr. Fred McBride, chief operations officer, Mr. Pat Smyth, director of finance, and Mr. Cormac Quinlan, interim director of policy and strategy. I also welcome Ms Sue Kane, the project manager of Tusla, who is in the Public Gallery. They all are welcome and I thank them for being here.
Apologies have been received from Senator Imelda Henry and Deputies Billy Kelleher and Sandra McLellan. I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery that mobile telephones should be turned off for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, which affects the recording of the meeting and the staff.
This is the first part of our meeting, the second part of which is the meeting with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I thank members for their agreement to switch the meeting around to accommodate the Minister. This meeting is one of the committee's regular meetings with Tusla to discuss the ongoing work commitment of the agency. On what probably could be his last occasion with us, I thank Mr. Jeyes in advance for his work, commitment and dedication since he took up the job. He has been a good friend to this committee. I note Mr. Jeyes has announced his intention to step down. On my behalf and on behalf of the committee, I thank him for his work. We will not wish him well yet in his retirement but we hope he will have a pleasant and active retirement.
Before we begin with Mr. Jeyes's opening statement, I will remind witnesses about privilege. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice and rulings of the Chair to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Jeyes to make his opening remarks.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I welcome this opportunity to update the committee. I am well aware that it is a busy time of year but it is a good time of year to tell the committee about the progress of this year. We are in the midst of completing our business plan for 2016 and, therefore, the views of members are welcome. I can summarise it in five words - much done, more to do.
We take this opportunity to talk about the business plan for 2015 in the first instance. We published our corporate plan and the 2015 business plan was the first detailed statement covering the outputs and objectives of that plan. The first part of this report covers our progress in the first three quarters.
The child protection notification system is now available to external services that require this information, specifically An Garda Síochána, the Tusla out-of-hours emergency service, GP services and hospital accident and emergency departments. It is a big step forward. The national out-of-hours service is now operational, providing emergency advice and support to the Garda regarding the operation of protecting children under section 12.
We have come a long way regarding making information available. Integrated performance reports are published quarterly on the website, covering the full range of information in terms of service delivery as well as finance, HR and quality and risk.
We have further refined our need-to-know system working in partnership with colleagues in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. We have an incident management policy, which is due to be finalised, and a revised complaints and feedback policy has been approved and the final discussions with the trade unions have satisfactorily concluded.
As members will be aware, the issue of consistency has been a major feature and a national policy catalogue has been developed and it is on the Tusla web for all staff. Each of the 17 areas has a manager who leads on participation, partnership and family support and our common assessment framer, Meitheal, is being rolled out around the country. There has been detailed discussions with staff about a quality assurance framework. The first work this year was on unallocated cases. As the committee will hear, we are developing a detailed programme of quality reviews as well as performance audits for 2016.
We have pulled together all the investment of the agency in research. A strategy has been approved by the board and an operating model for the research team and an oversight committee with external involvement has been established.
A resourcing framework for supporting parents has been agreed, co-ordinators are in place and it was launched successfully earlier this week. The assessment consultation and therapy service is extremely important because it is the first one that follows the child, trying to ensure he or she does not finish in any type of secure establishment. If the child does, the service stays with him or her until he or she returns to the community. We are expanding our therapeutic services and the first expansion is the appointment of staff in the specialised field of supporting young people who exhibit sexually abusive behaviour. An alternative care strategy is being refined. There have been initial discussions and it will be a major undertaking in 2016. There has been substantial work to move from handing out grants to do good work to commissioning, in line with the Government, the Dáil and the agency's priorities. There is now full national oversight of all services relating to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
There has been an increase in that investment, which will continue.
Family resource centres are a key part of many communities and fully participate in our service delivery framework. An integrated management structure in education has been designed and the process to have three national lead managers covering the full range of our education activity is currently in process. There has been a review of the school completion programme following the ESRI report. The strength of local initiatives is celebrated but we must complement that with good governance. There have been detailed and excellent conversations with school completion chairpersons and co-ordinators in recent weeks. Early years inspection now runs a full national system. Gaps are being covered and the national structure is fully in place. It will benefit from further investment in 2016.
The final output relates to whether Tusla is a credible and fit-for-purpose organisation. We have much more information. An estates strategy and property audit have been completed and we have a programme of capital works. A risk register has been developed at all levels of the organisation. There has been initial discussion at the board and it will continue to review it. There has been detailed work and discussion on financial controls, and in particular on the governance arrangements with the wide range of externally funded agencies. As budgets improve we are beginning to put the emphasis back on training and to ensure that managers have the support they need regarding performance management, legal framework and leadership. Recruitment has been identified as a major issue. As a consequence, and to produce competition with the national recruitment service, we established Tusla Recruit so we can speed up these processes. A head of legal services has been appointed and there have been productive and constructive discussions with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to expand Tusla legal services further.
As matters stood at the end of the third quarter this year, there are still concerns about the national child care information system. It is fully operational and there is much learning from front-line practice with the developer. We wish to speed up the roll-out and discussions on that matter continue between Fred McBride and ICT control in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There is ongoing work involving the mother and baby homes inquiry in the Department, the Adoption Authority and ourselves to ensure there is clear co-operation about adoption records and improving our information tracing systems. Discussions with the HSE continue regarding the best way for Tusla to fulfil its responsibilities for psychological welfare services for families.
Additional external support and a strategic partner for ICT are currently being procured, but there are still issues regarding our essential dependency on HSE arrangements. This is not just a matter of investment. Clearly, we share the network for servers so issues of network hosting and development of our applications are important. That remains under-funded and ill-defined.
I will continue very quickly so members can deal with their issues of concern. On the back of an improved financial settlement for 2016 which addresses some of the inherited legacy deficits, a business plan under the Minister's direction in the performance statement is in preparation. This will be the second year in our corporate plan. Key issues will be addressed and it will be submitted later this month. The first issue, which is crucial and of great significance culturally, is the commencement and implementation of the revised Children First guidelines. A national implementation team has been established under Cormac Quinlan, the director of policy and strategy, to ensure readiness for mandated reporting systems and responses, information and guidance for others carrying out this work, training and e-learning, and the full range of information and advice.
Second is a legislative response to the work in after-care, particularly our responsibility for those young people in education and training. There is also advice and advocacy. Advocacy is crucial to ensure these young adults are getting the health, housing, training and support required. The first steps on a clear national policy are there and we are prepared to ensure that the right of every young person to an after-care plan is in place.
In addition, we are getting ready for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. We have three working groups making sure there is full public awareness, the assessment of compelling reasons and the establishment of the adoption information register.
There is also a detailed plan to examine the resource deficits, the so-called unallocated cases, and to ensure the time is significantly reduced from first referral and monitoring to the allocation of a social worker for assessment and support. We will progress the national incident management system and that will be available for scrutiny. The quality assurance directorate has launched "Tell Us" at Tusla, the national management system, and innovative methodologies for service users. We must do more about responding to what our complaints are telling us in policy terms and feedback from our customers.
We must examine standardising policy. The child protection and welfare handbook was distributed throughout the country. I still see well-thumbed copies. That was a success five years ago, but it is time for it to be reviewed and updated. We must build on the work supported by Atlantic Philanthropies in partnership and family support, to ensure we are working with parents in support of their children and that the early intervention of Meitheal is used as well as the audit tool for parents. Research is continuing to make sure it is in line with our priorities. A quality assurance framework will examine historical allegations, the child protection notification system and our child protection and welfare and children in care services to assess the impact they have. It will not just look at the data.
We must do further work at the children and young people services committees. We must ensure our support for children in care is genuinely multi-disciplinary and multi-agency. We must work with the Department of Education and Skills in the tracking of school performance and with the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure there is immunisation and health and dental checks. The alternative care strategy must pick up pace. We will produce a children in care to adoption handbook. We will establish a commissioning support unit and a clear commissioning cycle. The priorities established for domestic, sexual and gender based violence include implementation of governance, a standard reporting framework and our contribution to the multi-departmental work as set out in the Istanbul Convention.
We must follow through on our discussions and conversations to build on the community strengths of the school completion programme and ensure there is an integrated approach to educational welfare, home school liaison and school completion. We must ensure that education as a component of every child's right to achieve their potential is fully developed in the service delivery framework. The early years inspectorate will be developed with further investment, a central registration office will be established when the regulation comes in at the end of the first quarter and an ICT system will be developed to ensure our inspections are intelligence driven. Importantly, we have just concluded a review of section 14, that is, the work with parents who choose to educate their children elsewhere, including at home in many instances or in non-recognised schools. The participation and achievement in education of children in care will involve specific initiatives. It is of crucial importance. Children will often do well when in care in terms of their education, but there are gaps where they fall behind.
Finally, there are specific things we must do to strengthen ourselves as fit-for-purpose. Establishing Tusla legal services will mean we have some contestability with our private sector legal providers and better work between social work and lawyers so we are supporting judges and the courts system efficiently and effectively. We must strengthen our corporate infrastructure to ensure we are effective, efficient and responsive.
In detailed discussions about the structure which involved face-to-face meetings with over 25% of staff, it was clear that significant concerns remain regarding how we support the front line in terms of ICT and HR. As referred to already, discussions continue. There will be further meetings this month with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the HSE regarding psychology; estate strategy, particularly the major investment in the special care estate that is planned for next year; and our value for taxpayer money strategy. Work has started and will continue to ensure that risk management policy is an active process, not just a box-filling exercise. We have made substantial progress on resource allocation because, having been disaggregated from the health service, the amount of money invested in children's services could vary hugely across the country. Major reforms are also being made in HR with regard to training needs and work with the national joint council.
When the Child and Family Agency was established, it was important for the governance of services for children because there was now to be no hiding place. I am confident that in challenging circumstances a strong beginning has been made and there has been good progress. There is a clear agenda for the next phase of reform. I will finish as I began: much done, a lot more still to do.
If Tusla is as successful as the catchphrase he quoted was in that general election for that particular party, we would be doing okay. I thank Mr. Jeyes and his colleagues for coming before us today and for giving us a breakdown of the plans and proposals and some of the work that has been ongoing in Tusla since its formation. I am not going to make any comments except to ask a few questions, which the witnesses will hopefully be able to answer.
Mr. Jeyes is on record in the past as having said Tusla was underfunded for the services it is required to provide. Does he consider the additional €38 million that has been secured in budget 2016 to be adequate not simply to stand still but to provide the services Tusla was established to provide? Bearing in mind that the Children First legislation and the aftercare legislation has since gone through the Dáil, placing additional statutory obligations on the agency, does he regard the €38 million as adequate? In terms of one of his core obligations, when Tusla was established, one cited obligation was to investigate all child protection and abuse claims in a timely manner. Just last month, the new Ombudsman for Children revealed serious deficiencies in the child protection and care system administered by Tusla. Mr. Muldoon found that Tusla managed to deal with just one fifth of all reports of child abuse in a timely manner last year. Can Mr. Jeyes comment on that? Can he indicate how many files remain unassessed at present? Has he a full complement of social workers? Can he confirm that he will be in a position in future to ensure that all referrals will be assessed in a timely manner?
Mr. Jeyes came before us earlier in this year to discuss a particular problem regarding unassessed files in the Laois-Offaly region. Perhaps he might use today to update us on where that investigation stands. At the time, he highlighted the absence of an appropriate IT system for Tusla. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think he said it was still operating under the IT system of the HSE, perhaps through a service-level agreement. In his report today he talks about a new IT system on a pilot basis. Perhaps he could update us on where that stands.
Regarding early years inspections, Mr. Jeyes said he now has inspectors to inspect early years settings across all geographical locations. Can he confirm under what process these inspections are being carried out? Following the "Prime Time" exposé a few years ago, a new registration system was to be established and new regulations were to be published. That still has not happened. Perhaps he could update us on what regulations the inspections are being carried out under and why it is that, almost three years later, the promised regulations have not been published and the new registration process has not been implemented across all regions. I am told that it may be implemented on a voluntary basis by some of the regions, but perhaps he could update us on that.
He spoke about some of the grants Tusla pays out to various schemes, such as the family resource centres, the school completion programme, domestic violence services and other such services. The evidence over the last few years is that there seems to be a reduction in the emphasis placed by Mr. Jeyes's organisation on the good works being carried out by these organisations. I am thinking of the family resource centres. I met with a delegation from family resource centres in the summer gone by and one person described the funding cuts over the last three years as simply unbearable. They removed their capacity to deal with what they were established to do, namely, early intervention and preventing a crisis occurring in family settings. They described waiting for their funding announcement as being like having an axe over one's head because one never quite knows what is going to happen.
I also referred previously to a women's refuge centre in Mullingar which received a letter one day to say its funding had been cut for the coming year because the service being provided is being reviewed and domestic abuse services for women in the midlands are being streamlined.
Does Mr. Jeyes think it is fair that these organisations are under review and that funding streams to them are being cut before the review is complete, not taking on board the good work they are doing in their communities?
I welcome Mr. Jeyes and his colleagues here this morning. I recognise that a considerable body of work has been carried out since the establishment of Tusla. That is without question. We are all conscious of the restrictions on funding and resources and the impact that can have in terms of how much further the Tusla team would like to be at this point in time. We can only hope that funding stream will improve and that much of what is yet to be done can be advanced significantly in the coming year. I am still very concerned about the appointment of social workers in cases where a social worker is required.
In response to one of the questions I submitted for consideration at this meeting I have been advised that Tusla only has figures in regard to the social worker appointments. These show that a staggering 5,585 children are waiting more than a month for the appointment of a social worker. Within that number there are children classified as high risk; those awaiting child protection conferences, subject to child protection plan; court proceedings; children in care with non-approved carers; children in care less than six months in unstable placement; and young persons at high risk, including mental health and anti-social behaviour. Of these there are 1,087 waiting more than a month for the appointment of a social worker. It is a serious fact. I am not pointing a finger of failure or an accusatorial point at Tusla in regard to this.
I would like Mr. Jeyes to share with us his and Tusla's view as to how this can be properly addressed and how we can reach a situation where we do not have what I would regard as inordinate delays. There are 3,504 children, of varying degrees of need - high, medium and low - who are waiting more than three months. We do not know how far beyond three months many of those might be waiting; 606 of those are high. To my mind, certainly in the high risk category, that is absolutely unacceptable, even if the number was only six, never mind 606. There has to be a realisation on the part of those who control the purse strings, those who make the decisions in terms of the resourcing of Tusla, that there would be recruitment of the required complement of social workers in order that Tusla can carry out its work effectively and efficiently. I highlight those facts as advised to me in response to questions I posed in advance of today's meeting.
In regard to Mr. Jeyes' address to us at the start of the meeting, I note with some concern that despite ongoing discussions with the HSE regarding Tusla's legal responsibilities for a psychology service that no progress has been made. That is absolutely unacceptable. As an Oireachtas Member I use the opportunity to say to the HSE that it is wake-up time here as this is not acceptable. Tusla has a responsibility to have such a service in place. I find it incredible that at this point in time following the establishment of Tusla, there has not been a resourcing transfer in order for that to be carried out.
In regard to the revision of the national after-care policy, Mr. Jeyes mentioned preparing for new statutory provisions to allow for all eligible young people the statutory right of an after-care plan. I presume new statutory provisions will require new legislation. If that is the case will he so advise? What progress has been made in regard to the preparation for new statutory provisions? I am very anxious to know about that. I believe that all eligible young people should have a statutory right to an after-care plan.
I wish Mr. Jeyes well in moving on from his current position. I was surprised when the matter was first highlighted. I understand that today is closing date for applications to replace him. I had already said to colleagues before he came him that this is their moment and they need to make some fast moves if they wish to be considered.
No, certainly not. I am going to leave it in the hands of the electorate when it comes to it.
In the entirety of all that Mr. Jeyes has said here this morning, I am being careful in what I say, as quite correctly the focus is on the children. I understand the referencing in regard to management but I have to raise with him a matter of concern. It gives me no pleasure to do so because I have had incidents of staff concerns within Tusla in regard to the regime within Tusla itself. There are those in the child care sector who have felt that the regime was less than caring of the role and work of people who have given a lifetime of service to the sector. I feel it would be remiss of me not to make reference to it. In paragraph 1.5, output 5, Mr. Jeyes referred to leadership development programmes. Leadership development programmes must include - there is no reference to this in anything he said this morning or in the responses we have received - the state of the organisation, the sense of a team and the sense of being appreciated and valued within Tusla. I note among the key requirements for the role the reference, "including the capacity to engage staff". If there were only one or two cases I would not be making the point here today. Sadly and regrettably, I have to say I have had a number of people contact me, some currently in service, others who have taken the decision to leave or felt that they were compelled to leave. What is the current state of the staff relationship within Tusla? I ask this because it is clear that we need people who feel comfortable, appreciated and valued within their roles if they are to perform to the level we expect of them in catering to the needs of the most vulnerable of our children. There is an issue there. I do not know what has caused it or why it is the case but it is an issue that needs to be addressed. I ask that whoever is replacing Mr. Jeyes would note my comments here today that we do not want an unhappy camp in terms of Tusla going forward.
I welcome the delegates. I will take up one or two points in the statement by Mr. Jeyes and then deal with some other issues. I welcome the fact that the child protection notification system is available to external services and the operation of the national out-of-hours service, which is something that many individuals and organisations have been calling for. It is good that it is commencing and clearly we will monitor it.
I join with my colleagues on the issue of the psychologists. I echo what Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said in regard to sending a message from the committee to the HSE that it is unacceptable. I would welcome an update but I have a feeling of déjà vu because the last time the witnesses appeared before the committee spoke very similar words. Perhaps we can discuss how to progress it. Is there something the committee can do because it is unacceptable that children do not have access to psychological services in the way they should?
I would welcome input on the pressure from the legal system for court orders for assessments. This is appropriate, but will it use up the resources available and affect our ability to reach children at an early stage and provide early support for psychological services for children, mothers and mothers-to-be? These are equally important, so how are we to balance these and ensure this area is resourced? Like Deputy Troy, I am interested to hear more about the IT system mentioned on Tusla's last visit here.
In regard to the Children First Act, the after-care and other legislation that has come before us, how ready is Tusla for these and has it the resources to implement them? Has it engaged with other agencies and bodies that are vital to helping it deliver on this legislation? Some issues related to the Children First Act, such as education, teachers and the health system, are not within the purview of Tusla, yet it will be asked for support in these areas. Tusla is smaller than the other bodies, yet it has the lead role on the legislation. I want to ensure we send out the appropriate messages. I welcome the launch the other day of a programme on parenting supports. The abolition of corporal punishment came in through the Children First Act, and it is good to see resources are available for parents.
On the issue of adoption information and tracing, we have had committee hearings and the committee has produced reports. Mr. Jeyes cited the issue of "compelling reasons" for non-disclosure. The committee is still trying to identify what could be a "compelling reason". I was not happy with the example given to us by the interim national manager of the adoption services. We were given the example of what was termed "distress" and "stress" but I do not see these as compelling reasons and committee members agreed with me in that regard. I would like to hear more from Tusla on this.
I was happy with the response on how the awareness plan will be developed. I believe our committee, particularly Deputies, could play a role in examining the plan and providing an input, given it is to be rolled out nationwide. The development in regard to legal services is very welcome. We often hear about high legal costs and questions about what we can do about them. Should this committee be considering legislation in that regard or has Tusla got to the stage of considering that yet? I am concerned about costs but I am also concerned that we must ensure children and families get the legal support they need as they go through the system. How are we to manage this? The issue of social workers arose in the child care law reporting project. What training is available for them regarding particular aspects of the Child Care Act? What is Tusla doing to prepare social workers for preparing for and reporting in courts? Is work being done on this?
There is inconsistency across the country in regard to engagement with external bodies, whether one is looking at the courts system or the Garda. This inconsistency is a particular concern in regard to safety and protection orders. Dublin may have more cases so people have more experience in this area and therefore have greater influence. I have come across a number of inconsistencies around the country.
I am very conscious of children's rights and wish to raise the issue of the child care law reporting project. Tusla is the Child and Family Agency and must be aware this report highlighted the need for greater engagement on parental support. A major concern I have is that the greater number of court care cases involve Traveller families and families of children with intellectual difficulties. What is the agency doing to support vulnerable parents? The launch of the report highlighted a number of issues showing parents were extremely vulnerable. Often the risk to a child may be low grade but the situation for a family can often escalate quite quickly thereby exposing the child to greater risk.
I have concerns about direct provision but because of the lack of time I will leave that in order to discuss the issue of homelessness and how the agency engages on that. I have a serious concern but I do not believe it is the role of the agency to sort out that concern. However, the agency has some role to play. Homeless children are being placed in hotels but staff and guests in those hotels are not vetted. I understand this practice would not be acceptable in the United Kingdom. Is it acceptable that we put children in inappropriate accommodation or in housing, such as modular housing? Has Tusla been consulted about these provisions or about how these units are designed? Has it been asked about how accommodation can be designed to meet the needs of children? We should look at these issues. The agency has an expertise and a role to play regarding homeless children and families. Therefore, when considering the issue of homelessness, we should ensure the agency has a role and engages and uses the expertise it has developed.
Many of my questions relate to how we can develop the agency, now it has taken its first steps. How do we ensure it takes solid steps in the future?
I thank Mr. Jeyes for the work he has done while with the agency and for the progress that has been made. I note the budget for the coming year has been increased and this is a result of producing results over the past 12 months. I welcome the recognition of that work through the increased budget.
My main concern relates to young people who drop out of school. We seem to have fallen into a dilemma where the funding for projects that cater for children who have dropped out of school has fallen between a number of stools, between the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Education and Skills, with nobody actually taking responsibility. The issue I raised over 12 months ago has not been resolved and the centre in question is now catering for 45 young people, some of whom were referred by the school attendance officers, yet no funding is being provided. This was brought home to me when I saw the report on Oberstown this morning. The cost of providing the service to someone admitted to Oberstown is over €350,000 per annum per person.
The centre I have spoken about is keeping people out of places like Oberstown but has no funding. This is a gap in our system. If schools that have from 25 to 30 students in a class have a disruptive student and are unable to deal with that student, the student is put out of school. Often, left to swim for themselves, these students fall into the gap because while there is an agency there to look after them, that agency is not getting the appropriate and required level of funding. The agency I refer to gets funding of just €47,500 from the Department of Education. It was set up over 13 years ago, but there has been no progress made in regard to it although I have had contact with the Minister and the Departments of Education and Justice about the issue. This is not the only place in the country where this is happening, where young people who are falling out of the education system find there is no adequate system in place to deal with them. I am disappointed we have made no progress on this matter.
I agree with Senator Burke on that issue, because he is referring to a very good facility in Cork.
What are the plans for the spending of the extra budget allocation, particularly in regard to the Children First Act and aftercare? How are these to be resourced? Also, has Tusla developed its IT system? There are concerns among those on the ground regarding the central recruitment system and about how it is working. Has the issue of the number of unallocated cases been addressed? In regard to recruitment, are both experienced and new young social workers being employed? Finally, what are the plans in regard to the guardian ad litemservice?
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I thank the Chairman. I will address each point in the order received. At the beginning I said there was no hiding place, and it is good for children's services that Tusla has to come to this committee to give an account; it is not part of the HSE megalith. There is even less of a hiding place in 2016 because of the funding made available. This has happened, in part, because Tusla established its credibility and has a clear database upon which it based the budget that was presented to Government. There has been a very constructive response to the under-funding and a number of issues can be addressed. Tusla presented a three year strategy, because one cannot change everything at once, and in the main the Government has responded to a request for year one. Once that is done there will be further budget pressures needed for 2017 and beyond. Tusla will have to make that case based on the success of the 2016 programme. This applies especially to Children First because while we can look to other countries and the impact of mandated reporters and reporting there, we will not know until it operates here. To a great extent Ireland already has mandatory reporting because of the efficient way it is done in An Garda Síochána, so it is elements of that process which are being taken forward. It ties in with how we are going to address the unsatisfactory level of what we refer to as unallocated cases.
The Deputy made reference to aftercare plans. We are ready for aftercare plans and we have a much more consistent policy on the supports for all young people who are in education and training, which is Tusla's responsibility. Due to the scourge of youth unemployment, we as a society have to do more to support these young people who are not in education and training, be it further adult education or practical assistance. These are young adult citizens of the State who need championing in accessing housing, health services, training and necessary employment. It is not about Tusla providing a second class service, it is about making sure there are sufficient after-care workers and plans to give these young people a sense of hope and to enable them access the services to which they are entitled.
Reference was made to the Ombudsman's report. There is a difficulty with all these reports and scrutiny - we are at this committee today, with my colleagues from HIQA this afternoon and we will meet with the Department of Health tomorrow - in that the report referred to Tusla data which was more than a year out of date. There is a more detailed issue in what is meant by "in a timely manner", in how that is subscribed and in the way referrals are dealt with. This is why Tusla is introducing meitheal, why we seek to divert and why we are seeking to ensure that all contacts with Tusla are responded to efficiently, effectively and proportionately.
I will address the figures in more detail when I come to Deputy Ó Caoláin's questions since he quoted the figures. The issue has improved and will improve further in detailed and specified ways during 2016.
The complement of social workers is kept much more up to date than was heretofore the case. Posts on maternity leave are replaced and while the appointments wait to be filled, if agency staff are available they can go in. We do, absolutely, need to get to the stage where all referrals are responded to. There are some local recruitment difficulties in the more remote areas. For example, we are currently running a more specific and bespoke recruitment campaign for Sligo. My colleague Mr. Fred McBride will update the committee on the situation in the midlands.
Mr. Fred McBride:
With regard to the Laois-Offaly area there was a significant backlog of cases that were reported to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and to the Minister. We were not entirely sure of the status of that backlog regarding priority and levels of risk associated with the cases. Using a rapid improvement methodology a team blitzed the backlog in a short period of time. It made decisions on which cases required allocation for ongoing, longer-term work, which cases could be closed off as they did not meet the thresholds for referral, and which cases required further assessment beyond initial screening. I have since reported to the Minister that the backlog is now dealt with.
All of the cases from the backlog that required allocation have been allocated. Cases that required further assessment beyond initial screening have been allocated to a social worker. There were just over 100 cases of retrospective allegations regarding adults. We have dedicated a specific management and social work capacity to look at these cases. These cases take a bit longer because historical information is inevitably more complex. However, that backlog is also being worked through. I took personal responsibility for the oversight of that process in the midlands and the area is now being returned to normal management arrangements with a new management team in place, a new area manager and a new service director.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
The Chairman asked about ICT. Tusla is looking at developing a national child care information service which is being piloted in Limerick and the mid-west. That has gone well and the practical wisdom of the front line is influencing the software. It needs to be rolled out faster. Discussions are ongoing, but as members are aware we have to pass certain controls, with deeper ICT control within that. However, to host such a new development as the child care information service Tusla needs more ICT support. We are still completely dependent upon HSE servers, networks and hosting. This is just a fact of life and no amount of investment, not least because of shared premises, will move us from that. The level of service we get is not proportionate to the level of activity that Tusla had when it was part of the HSE, which I sometimes characterise as 5%, but I would say that. It is actually a bit less than 5%, I am rounding up in the interests of children. It has been said to me in writing that in its last year as part of the HSE, Tusla received less than half of 1% of the HSE total ICT service and support and therefore that is what we should expect. Further discussions are happening with the Departments and with the HSE to find a way out of that. It is not just about resourcing. As with the other one or two issues I have raised with the committee today, I cannot do much more about this and it needs to be resolved at an interdepartmental level. Someone needs to make a call on it. They could call it by saying "Mr. Jeyes is wrong" but those issues, as the Deputy has rightly described, have been drawn to his attention a few times. The ICT issue must be resolved. It is not acceptable that less than .05% of the HSE's total ICT service is available to support our 4,000 staff, many of whom are very dependent upon it to carry out their service safely.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
It would be proportionate in terms of support; that every time we want to put a new application onto the ICT system we do not go to the bottom of the queue and we do not have to try to get it done on a grace and favour basis.
Members are welcome to see a demonstration of the child protection notification system, which works very well. Every time we consider a new application, however, it is not clear from the terms of a service level agreement that we are entitled to a specified amount of time and, therefore, can set our own priorities.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I would also add that the work on shared services has progressed well. The work we do through health business services, on which Mr. Smyth leads, is going well, as is payroll and processing. There is much more of a customer orientation and Tusla is treated as a customer the same way a hospital group or community health partnership would be.
The next issue raised by Deputy Troy concerned registration and regulation for the early years scheme and how long it has taken. While I want to say I agree with everything the Minister and his departmental officials will say this afternoon, this is a matter for them. The timing of the introduction of the regulations and the registration system is an issue for the Department. My understanding is that it will be introduced at the end of the first quarter but the Department can answer the Deputy's critique this afternoon.
I understand that there is an impression that we consider grants less important, but that is not the case. This year we invested €142 million in various outsourced services. We do this because they are more flexible, closer to the community and can provide value for money. These services have been more vulnerable to reductions during the recession because we have had to focus on the core issues of child protection and school attendance, for example.
We need to have a review of family resource centres. The work in many of these centres is outstanding but there will be a review because there have been many changes since they were first established more than a decade ago. Some of them face enormous pressure, not least from new multi-ethnic Ireland, and do a terrific job. For others, perhaps, the demands are now not so great. There was no reduction in 2015 and there will not be a reduction in 2016 but we need to examine their effectiveness and the support and contribution they make. We are having detailed discussions with them on the contribution they will make when we deal with refugee resettlement.
In 2015, Tusla spent more on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence than it did in the previous year. I accept that part of the criticism, which is correct, is that we are slow to conclude discussions. The business of concluding discussions regarding our service plan took too long last year. This has been acknowledged and we need to ensure we get in and have constructive discussions with the Department and the Minister. Although there were no reductions, I hear there were some movements within the budget to ensure we were getting a better spread of services and that people who were being abused were getting a response.
Deputy Ó Caoláin spoke about recruitment and it was raised at a later point of the session. Along with ICT, it was one of the biggest issues arising from our consultation. It was clear there were reservations about the way in which the national recruitment service worked. It was designed for a particular time and everyone in the health service and the children's service sees its need for reform. We also seek to add pressure to that reform by setting up Tusla Recruit in order that we can find ways of speeding up the process and that every social work vacancy is filled in the fastest possible time.
We now have a clear database and, during the summer and autumn, I was open and clear in stating that, on our present budget, we could not deal with the issues identified by our quality review of unallocated cases. I accept the Deputy's points that it is unacceptable and we need to examine this further. I hear very clearly his correct listing of what is high risk. Decisions are made within that because the 5,585 figure includes the 1,087 high-risk cases. Some of these categories would be attended to and all are reviewed while awaiting a fuller assessment. We need to get better at this and I fully expect, through intervention strategies and additional resources in the region of €6 million, to make considerable progress and there should not be an issue with unallocated cases by 2017. As an agency, we got to the stage of being able to state the case objectively and clearly and the Government has responded, which is welcome.
Discussions continue within the Department about psychology and I will have further discussions with the national director for primary care in this regard. I would be derelict in my duties if I did not mention these issues although I am conscious that I have been here, said it and done it before. It remains unresolved and we need to conclude it.
I have covered the issues raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin regarding aftercare. There will be a plan for each child. As a society, we need to look out for those who are particularly vulnerable, being those who are not in education or learning or training programmes. Ireland's statistics for that cohort are very impressive. The support provided to them, either through grants, SUSI or ourselves, is very good. The countries of the United Kingdom are only now catching up with the notion that children who remain in education should be allowed to stay in foster care. This has always been the practice in Ireland and is something that should be celebrated.
It was no surprise to me to come to the end of my contract. Age catches up with us all. There is no more of a story to it. We have been involved in an improvement journey. When I first arrived I said I hoped to bring some evidence-based impatience. The task has been onerous and the workload huge, and much of the success of Tusla has been generated through the enormous effort, willpower and goodwill of staff.
It is interesting to put the members' challenge together with observations made later about the difficulties we have in creating consistency. Consistency is based on best Irish practice and debate. Sometimes there are issues within the workforce. There can be some sort of wish to translate consistency as meaning doing something the way I or we, in a certain parish, do it. We consult rigorously. I met the area managers monthly, as does Mr. McBride now. We consult at a level unheard of under any previous regime. When we consulted on how the structure was working, we had meetings throughout the country that involved comments from and direct interaction with more than 25% of the workforce. We also used social media to get their views.
In terms of creating a modern, accountable organisation, we stand for accountability and personal responsibility. This has been a time of considerable change and there is always resistance to change. We are creating a culture of consequences and a culture where staff are valued and respected. We often speak of the values and, more important, how we translate these values into behaviours.
I hear the points being made about a number of people and I regret the way they are made. I am a very accessible chief executive and any issue can be drawn to my attention or that of the director of human resources if it involves me. I would describe the culture we are seeking to create as one of high challenge and high support. It is both of these and this is appropriate for the organisation. I do not, for a moment, duck the issue that we have been doing that in pressurised circumstances. There has been the pressure of a financial crisis that was not of the staff's making. At the same time, we were challenged by the Government to improve services for children.
There are plenty of opportunities for staff to raise individual concerns which are investigated thoroughly and independently. We have made progress in that regard in becoming a modern organisation and I reject the way the Deputy characterised it.
Senator van Turnhout mentioned psychology. We have been given legislative responsibility and it remains within primary care, which is the most important referral route because it is accessible to all but we want to make sure we are developing psychology, for the reasons the Senator mentioned, for all families. Further developments would not be good if we finished up with responsibility for psychology for the children in difficulties while for the “nice” children there was another service. The legislation has given us that responsibility and the Departments need to sort out how we can provide that universal service.
Mr. Cormac Quinlan:
I welcome Senator van Turnhout’s comments on the cross-sectoral responsibility for the implementation of the Children First Act 2015, the agency has always been very clear about giving the message that child protection is everyone’s responsibility. It is incumbent on ever sector to prepare for the impact of the legislation. An interdepartmental group has already been meeting to deal with the Act. That will be put on a statutory footing when the legislation is commenced. That then will support the implementation of the legislation across the sectors.
I will be leading a national implementation team that will examine our systems of response in respect of mandatory reporting, including our ability to acknowledge reports, gather information in respect of them and support other agencies in the development of safeguarding statements, and various other aspects of the legislation with which we are required to deal. In addition, we will provide information and advice. Our website was recently updated in respect of the enactment of the legislation. We will develop information, training and advice for people, including an e-learning element that will be accessible nationwide to other agencies. This depends on our information and communication technology, ICT, supports but we are planning and preparing for it.
We welcomed the committee’s report on adoption, which we will use in the context of our business case to request additional support under the legislation. While taking into account the Senator’s example of the case, we too have concerns about what “compelling reasons” means. We asked for further clarity on that so that we can respond as effectively as possible to those matters.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
Legal costs in 2014 were in excess of €36 million, mainly because of legacy debts. This year they will come in under €30 million. More than 50% of that is for the legal costs of guardians ad litemalthough they account for less than 50% of cases. We spend more on their counsel than I do for the whole agency, including our superior court work. We intend to strengthen Tusla’s legal services taking over our own quality assurance and oversight arrangements. We have proposed to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs that we increase the number of lawyers we employ that would give us contestability against the other firms to pilot more close working between social workers and the law in order to serve the courts’ and, more importantly, families’ best interests.
I am concerned about social worker training in the courts. More could be done at qualification stage. We have introduced new court reporting in the past two years. We had a court reporting group. We need to bring that back and review it to see whether we are addressing the areas of inconsistency that have been identified.
A point was raised about the over-representation of certain groups. We do wish to do some specific research. The over-representation of Travellers is a matter of considerable concern. We had already identified that. In Galway, the chances of a Traveller child being in care is ten times that of a child from the settled population. We need to go upstream to work with the Traveller community, on a multi-agency basis, to find the fundamental reasons for that. We cannot ignore it.
The report also mentions the new Irish. We have been working with the immigrant family support service to make sure there is a full understanding of standards in Ireland and the way in which we wish to work with them and not to do things to them.
The Senator also helpfully mentioned direct provision. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report on that was a curate’s egg: it identified two of our areas that worked very well with it and two where there was significant room for improvement. We need to build on that. It is very difficult for the agency to promote effective child protection if the environment was designed, in the first instance, to make that difficult. The same applies to homelessness. We would include that work with the work on vulnerable groups, such as the new Irish and Travellers. We do have dedicated social workers and educational welfare workers in that area, and dealing with those who are homeless, to ensure they are advised and that we can minimise the impact of staying in hotel accommodation.
I represent the agency on the Government’s refugee task force making sure that the strengths of direct provision are kept and the areas that proved weak are left behind, not least in making sure that the emergency reception and orientation centres, EROCs, are child-friendly environments. While we are not being invited to comment on housing design, we think it is important to make sure child care is built in and that there are early years facilities, child-friendly environments and families housed on their own, not with single men and so forth.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
We and the Department are on the task force and that is being built in, in a much more helpful way. We will give extra resources to family resource centres once we move beyond the first assessment stage to resettlement.
Given my educational background, I am very sympathetic to the points Senator Colm Burke raised. We need to have further strategic discussions with the Department of Education and Skills. There is a gap for young people who need to learn in more practical ways. The Department quite rightly wants schools to cater for all of Ireland’s children. There is a minority who need other ways, such as the Cork centre. It is fundamentally an issue for the Department of Education and Skills, although we want to be able to support the children. In the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, review we see our work with the school completion programme as helping the individual child to make the transition and emphasising the out of school provision, as the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report suggested, and complementing whatever comes out of the DEIS review, which the Department of Education and Skills advocated.
Senator Colm Burke and I regard this as small money in the big picture but it is falling between the cracks. I appreciate Mr. Jeyes’ remarks but there are young men and women who would otherwise be in different places and not in school being facilitated. It is an awful shame that all the State organisations and Departments cannot intervene and do something about it because it is being pushed from A to B to C.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I would be more than happy to be involved in those discussions, if I could be.
I understand the point being made but I do not think having our scope stretched in order to plug other gaps will work. We will just end up providing a second-rate service. Maybe some additional money could be provided but more fundamental discussions are needed about whose responsibility it is. Fundamentally, I accept that it is the State's responsibility. I also accept, having visited some of these centres, including in Cork, that the provision is good. Something has got to give because this is what is sometimes called a wicked issue that covers various Departments. We cannot just Elastoplast that or have our mission stretched because that is not the right way to do it.
To be fair, it is not your fault either. I do not want you to think that we are blaming you because we are not. That said, it is frustrating when one sees great work being done, as described by Mr. Jeyes-----
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
There is a philosophical issue at play here. I absolutely struggle with the term "non-recognised" schools that is used in Ireland. I also struggle with our role in that. There are very significant issues involved here that we need to unpack in 2016. We will certainly be referring in our business plan to the need for further discussions with the Department of Education and Skills in this regard.
The Chairman mentioned specific issues of budget. There will be investment, for example, of approximately €6 million in unallocated cases. We are doing that on an objective basis because some areas were underfunded because of what was inherited from health boards and the HSE. That money will also be used to strengthen our intervention arrangements where there has been a backlog to help staff to get back on the front foot. Such backlogs were caused in some instances by high levels of maternity leave, which we have now resolved, or because of particularly demanding cases. I can think of parts of the country where the service was running well but then a very demanding case involving a lot of children being taken into care at the one time pushed everything else back. We need to intervene to help in such circumstances and there are resources available to do that. There are also resources available to make sure we strengthen the human resources, finance, communications and quality support services provided by the organisation to the local areas. We want services delivered at the most local level practicable within the €38 million allocation, as well as meeting our current rate of expenditure. There is funding available to address these issues.
I have already dealt with the point about human resources. We accepted that the centre was not working but that was the hand we were dealt. Despite that, we are developing our own systems. I also accept the point about the mix of social work teams which is quite difficult to achieve. We have now reached an agreement with IMPACT regarding transfers so we will not have our own staff applying for transfers through the open system and will deal with that separately. Sometimes there is a particular problem with the mix of teams in urban areas because of the high turnover. We find better performance in the rural areas because the teams are more settled and balanced.
I have addressed the issue of unallocated cases. While I completely accept Deputy Ó Caoláin's point that the figure of just under 6,000 is unacceptable, I would point out that at the beginning of the year that figure was over 8,000. Even within the resources we have currently, staff have dealt with the issue well and made a magnificent contribution. We now have additional resources to take that further.
The area of guardians ad litemneeds to be reformed. It should not be part of the work of this agency, whether in terms of paying or directing such guardians because they-----
What is the figure for a full complement of social workers in the organisation and what percentage of that complement is in place? Mr. Jeyes said that while Dr. Muldoon's report was welcome and shone a necessary light, it relied on outdated figures. Will Mr. Jeyes tell us exactly how many cases remain unassessed? Does he believe the additional €38 million provided for 2016 is adequate to meet all of the agency's statutory obligations?
I thank Mr. Jeyes for his replies to the various points made. I assure him that I tempered my remarks relating to the matter that created some discomfort. My concern is only about the future. I wish to record my thanks to Mr. Jeyes for his service, for the job he has done and done well in so many respects. I wish him well in his future post.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I can give specific figures in a written response to Deputy Troy, if that is acceptable. We work on the basis of the 2010 complement plus the Ryan posts because that is what we inherited. We will need to publish figures and to put that onto an even keel in terms of an objective distribution based on population and needs around the country. As far as unassessed cases are concerned, the response read by Deputy Ó Caoláin is accurate. The figures given earlier are correct.
In terms of investment to move us forward sufficiently, although with some way still to go, the sum of €38 million is adequate. In terms of my style, I would say that I have appreciated the support of this committee as well as the challenge, specifically from the likes of Deputy Ó Caoláin. We need both and I have received both from this committee, which I appreciate.
He will provide the Deputy with a written reply. I thank Mr. McBride, Mr. Smyth, Mr. Quinlan and Ms Kane for being here. I also thank Mr. Jeyes for being here and for his co-operation and courtesy. I wish him well in his new role. I wish the Child and Family Agency well and thank all of its staff across the country for their Trojan work. I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas and prosperous new year.