Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs
Tusla: Chairperson Designate
I welcome those viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV. The purpose of today's meeting is to have an engagement with Mr. Pat Rabbitte following his nomination by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, as chairperson designate of Tusla with effect from 1 January 2019. This is an opportunity for the joint committee to discuss with Mr. Rabbitte his vision and strategic priorities for his term of office. I welcome Mr. Rabbitte to the meeting and thank him for appearing before the committee.
I draw the attention of the witness to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on 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, 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 to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind those present to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. Television coverage and web streaming may also be adversely affected.
I advise Mr. Rabbitte that any submission or opening statement he has provided to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. I call on Mr. Rabbitte to make his opening statement, after which there will be questions from committee members.
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I thank the Acting Chairman and the committee for the invitation to appear before it this morning. As the committee will know, I have spent most of my working life in public service of one kind or another and I approach the challenge of chairperson of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, from that perspective.
The agency is tasked with improving the service for vulnerable children and families throughout the country. Although it is a young agency, very considerable progress has been made since its establishment in 2014. It is my observation that in the intervening period, there has been little enough attention given to the very positive narrative that Tusla has to tell.
Perhaps that is the nature of the very demanding and sensitive work that goes on in child protection, day in and day out. Of course, deficiencies in the agency have also been highlighted in recent years and it is undeniable that challenges continue to exist. It is also undeniable that there is a transformation under way in the priority that public policy now attaches to caring for vulnerable children and in supporting families who need assistance, as compared to even more recent history.
As regards the quality of service and consistency of practice, it is unavoidable that there are legacy issues and cultural changes that must be confronted. Resources are finite and recruitment of professional staff, particularly social workers, is very challenging. Additional resources over the past couple of years are very welcome but there will never be sufficient resources to meet all of the challenges. In respect of the core business, the shortage of social workers leaves the agency vulnerable to criticism when non-compliance with best practice is sometimes established.
The statute from which Tusla derives its existence, the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, is uniquely prescriptive. As a result, there are hugely onerous responsibilities on the board and on the chief executive and executive management. Perhaps this is a positive pressure to continue to raise our standards on the protection of children as compared to the past. However, it does mean there is an inordinate demand on executive time to dwell on compliance and bureaucratic matters.
Tusla has come through a difficult time over the past 18 months or so. In my view, the agency is the stronger for it, provided we can show that we have learned the lessons. The challenge of caring for vulnerable children and families will never attain perfection. However, an enormous amount of thought and work has gone into bedding down the new agency and evolving best practice. I hope I will be able to help drive that ongoing progress and motivate the undoubted capacity within Tusla to further improve and develop our child and family protection services. I am satisfied that we have the people with the necessary skills and dedication to provide our vulnerable children with a world-class service. Tusla needs to be more transparent and there is no reason the agency should fear greater openness, which is not to say that, on occasion, there are very particular reasons for restraint. There are sometimes competing rights, and reasonable judgement must apply. We may be mistaken if we presume we can change the inherited culture of an organisation by excessive micromanagement or by multiplying the mechanisms for oversight.
There are a number of immediate priorities that I would like to progress. I will be glad to try to answer any questions the committee members have for me.
I find myself in a strange position. We are addressing an issue in respect of Mr. Rabbitte's chairing of Tusla. He is a former colleague so it feels very strange to be on this side of the table when he is on that side. I acknowledge Mr. Rabbitte's stellar public service. As he stated, he has spent much of his life in public service. On a personal level, I am of the view that he will bring a perspective that reflects that public service to his role as chairperson of Tusla. He will have a very strong understanding of the dynamics that drive the type of work we, as public representatives, so and the challenges we face in representing constituents whose families interface with organisations like the HSE and Tusla. He will have a very intimate knowledge of that and, because he has that perspective, it will very much drive the type of culture to which he refers.
I welcome Mr. Rabbitte's opening statement. I sense from it that there is a need for Tusla to be very open in terms of how it operates and also in recognising the challenges that it faces as an organisation. I wish Mr. Rabbitte well in the role. Today is perhaps just a starting point in deepening the relationship between Tusla as an organisation and this committee.
Mr. Rabbitte made reference to the challenges he faces, particularly in respect of the shortage of social workers, which has a massive bearing on the interaction between the family unit and the State in terms of the societal issues that exist. I want to delve a bit deeper into the issue of recruitment. We had a very positive interaction with Tusla in respect of the challenges it faces and the interactions it is having with academia in the context of trying to recruit social workers in a very competitive space where, arguably, the issues that exist mean that it is competing on a global level for talent. I wonder if there needs to be a stronger political input at Government level and on a cross-departmental basis between the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Education and Skills, for example, in the context of ownership of this as a policy issue. I would like to hear Mr. Rabbitte's perspective on that, although I am conscious that he cannot stray too much into the political space. We know there is a shortage of social workers and what the consequences of that shortage are. We know people are doing their best within the organisation to manage their caseloads. We also know that those caseloads are increasing exponentially, with a consequent rate of attrition among social workers. If we can crack that nut collectively as between the Oireachtas, the Minister and Tusla, we will be doing a good day's work in respect of the operation of Tusla.
My only intervention today is to see if we can get a greater perspective, even at this early stage, in respect of what the Oireachtas needs to do or focus on in respect of the recruitment issues and what Government could be doing in respect of facing those challenges.
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I thank Deputy Sherlock for his kind remarks and good wishes. He is right about the relationship between the agency and politics and the political environment generally. A great deal more can be done in that regard. Outside of this committee, I greatly doubt if Members of the Oireachtas are as familiar with the work of Tusla as one might expect, given that, as constituency politicians, they encounter these issues from time to time. The responsibility for that rests with Tusla in terms of promoting the good narrative it has to tell, as well as the deficiencies that have been highlighted in various inquiries and so on. There is a good story to tell and I would welcome forging that closer link with politics to which Deputy Sherlock refers. I am very happy to invite the Chairman and his colleagues to the Brunel Building to meet us for a presentation tailored to meet their needs and to address the suggestions that would come from members of the committee.
That might be of help to both of us.
Deputy Sherlock raised the big issue of recruitment. I am aware that the committee recently had an opportunity to discuss this issue with the chief executive and members of the senior management team. There is undoubtedly a major issue for the agency. It is also a large part of the explanation for some of the deficiencies highlighted in the HIQA report, for example. Even though Tusla has recruited 800 social workers since 2014 - it has had to run very fast to stand still - the net gain has been minimal at 4%. Last year was a good example. We recruited approximately 60% of the available social workers - I think the exact number was something like 142 - but 158 social workers retired or left the service for other reasons. That gives the committee an idea. In 2018, 142 social workers were recruited and 158 social workers left through retirement and other reasons. It is a huge issue for us. We have to look at whether the training and education of social workers should continue to be the remit of the traditional universities only. I think we have to look outside the traditional universities. We also have to look at the possibilities for people in other grades to convert to becoming social workers. Why, for example, should there not be a conversion course for social care workers?
I will respond to Deputy Sherlock's particular point by emphasising that this issue cannot be resolved by Tusla alone. I would love to get into the car with the chief executive and go to see the new president of Technological University Dublin and the heads of the institutes of technology. Those colleges have successfully produced skilled people for industry and business. I am sure they would be responsive, but that is not the way things happen in the public service. There is a high-level committee dealing with this matter. As far as I can see, the universities have not made provision to increase the output. I think 215 places are available each year. I have not seen any proposals from the universities to tackle this problem next year. In the meantime, there is great pressure on Tusla. In an area I was dealing with recently, 33 social workers left last year. There are 92 social workers on maternity leave. That cannot happen without leaving gaps. It really is a significant issue for us.
I thank Mr. Rabbitte for coming before us this morning. I will continue on the same theme. Like Deputy Sherlock, I have a unique connection with Mr. Rabbitte. In our case, we share the same surname. It is a very unusual one. I hope to keep the tradition of having a Rabbitte in Leinster House for another while.
As I have said, I would like to pick up on Deputy Sherlock's theme. I am a Deputy for Galway East. In the past, people would not have come to us regularly to talk about issues relating to their engagement with Tusla. I assure Mr. Rabbitte that in the last three years, not a week has gone by without a representation coming before me looking for me to engage with a case. I think this is where relationships need to improve and openness needs to get a little better. If I have an issue regarding planning or anything else, I can deal with the county council. If I want to have conversations with the chief executive of the council or any of the planners, there is no issue. If I have an issue with the education and training boards, there is a direct line on which I can talk to people. That is not the experience with Tusla nationally, regionally or locally.
This is not the first time I have made this point in this room. I sometimes feel that it is a lockdown situation. As Mr. Rabbitte has acknowledged, matters are sometimes dealt with on a need-to-know basis. There must be dialogue and communication somewhere. There has to be an understanding. As my party's Front Bench spokesperson in this area, I feel I should have a relationship of openness with Tusla, but it is not there. That is not for the want of trying on my part. When people come before me, I fail to make progress in every single case. That should not be the case. When I engage with Tusla at local and regional levels, I am put on a recording. There is an open conversation. The call is recorded and there are three people sitting in on it. To me, that is not how business should be done. It leaves a sour taste. Ultimately, we are talking for children in all of these cases. We are concerned about the welfare of the child. Families are looking for help in circumstances in which they feel they cannot make it.
I welcome what Mr. Rabbitte has said here this morning about bringing us forward and showing more openness to us. That is something that actually needs to happen. I ask him to ensure it does during his time as chairperson. I have spoken previously about local government and the Department of Education and Skills. Why can we not have the same level of support? Why can we not have a two-way mechanism of communication between the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla? The Chairman of the committee has raised this matter on numerous occasions. I will leave it at that. I will take Mr. Rabbitte at face value when he states that he will make progress. That is what he has said to Deputy Sherlock. I do not like the manner in which Tusla operates at this time. There is a lack of responsiveness to phone calls and emails. When one makes a call, one feels that it is not welcome.
Mr. Rabbitte stated that he would love to get into a car and drive to the institutes of technology, etc., to meet those involved. I wonder whether we could look at this in another way by facilitating work experience. We have to give young people in institutes of technology an opportunity to do work experience. At present, there is no such opportunity. Surely there has to be a mentoring programme at third level. The transition year programme in secondary schools involves mentoring, etc. A young lady has come to me to say she would love to get work experience. She thought she would be able to do it in Yap Galway, but that service has now closed. I would love to get involved with that level of care. The young lady in question is in fourth year at Athlone of Institute of Technology. She would love to be able to apply for a job with Tusla when she finishes fourth year. People sometimes like to know what work experience is like, but it is not facilitated. I totally understand everything to do with Garda vetting, etc. These people would have it. They are six months from qualifying. Surely they are the people we should be putting the fishing line on and hooking in. That is not a commentary. It is a door that Mr. Rabbitte should be able to open. He should be able to facilitate work experience and mentoring programmes and academies. We are not talking about creating new spaces - we are talking about holding on to what is there.
I wonder whether the people who work in Tusla have the tools to do their jobs and to be facilitated in their caseloads. This is something that has arisen in the past. Has it arisen since Mr. Rabbitte took up this position? We know that people are totally over-burdened with caseloads. The difference between the caseloads of people who work in Tusla and the caseloads of people who work on similar matters in other organisations is twofold. Do the staff of Tusla have the necessary mechanisms, including the IT mechanisms, to upload information when they leave a house and sit in the car? They should be able to move on, rather than having to come back to the office to do paperwork that will then have to be aligned with the IT system. What is the level of IT?
Implementing the affordable childcare scheme has taken more than three years because the information technology was not sufficient. What IT is available to people on the ground? Finally, Mr. Rabbitte said there are a number of immediate priorities he would like to progress. Would he care to share them?
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I would like to say to Deputy Rabbitte - I have always wanted to say that - that I understand her frustration about the major issues she has raised. As she said, times have changed. A lot of issues that were concealed or hidden in the past are more frankly confronted now. I ask her to understand that intervening in a family is a very fine balance. By training, social workers are very sensitive in walking that narrow line. Perhaps the best way of enhancing our mutual knowledge about a modus vivendiin this area is the kind of engagement and political contact about which both Deputy Rabbitte and Deputy Sherlock have spoken. For example, last Friday the board spent a full day in Mullingar addressing issues affecting the midlands region. The regional and local staff made detailed presentations to the board, which were immensely impressive. There is no reason this could not be replicated for local Deputies, Senators and councillors.
I can see a potential difficulty in circumstances where a Deputy is confronted by parents in his or her clinic concerning a particular case. It is very difficult in those circumstances to make a phone call to anybody - An Garda Síochána, Tusla or whomsoever. There is not much point in giving people half-baked information that can only be misleading. There is room to enhance that understanding, as both Deputies have talked about.
Deputy Rabbitte is right about how times have changed. There were 57,000 referrals last year. If I stopped a person on the street and told him or her there were 57,000 referrals to Tusla last year, he or she would be amazed. When I started in the job I asked the senior management team at my first meeting if that number was good or bad. To a person, the team members said it was good because it meant that these issues were now being dealt with. It means the existence of the agency is becoming known and obviously mandatory reporting is having an influence. A 40% increase is amazing. It shows the agency's workload.
Deputy Rabbitte asked whether staff, especially front-line staff, have the necessary tools to do the business. They are certainly much better equipped than they were. For example, an IT system has been in place since last July that is integrated across the entire system and the entire country. The general response from staff who input information is that the system is a huge advantage. Staff members have been provided with the devices they need. Perhaps I should not make a blanket statement to that effect, but certainly a very large number of them have. That is being advanced all the time.
On the question of work experience, I would not rule out any dimension in addressing this shortage. Speaking of information technology and the tools of the trade, maybe there are straightforward administrative staff who could take some of the burden off social workers and let them focus on the professional area where they are needed. I would not rule anything out. However I am frustrated by pressure on the agency from different quarters, which I fully understand, to repair gaps in the service. This critique comes with the acknowledgement that there is a shortage of social workers, not only here, but across the western world. Regardless of that, we should somehow be able to address the gaps. We are not showing any urgency about doing that. If we aimed to have a similar number of social workers per thousand people here as in England, we would have to address a shortage of 1,500 social workers. There is no point in my telling the committee that we need another 1,500 social workers, or in the agency preparing a workforce plan that says so. That is simply because we are not going to get them. They are not there. In those circumstances, we have to look at creative solutions. I would not rule out any of them, but there is a great need for more urgency in progressing this. As Deputy Sherlock said, this involves the Department of Education and Skills. We are competing with the HSE and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, for the 215 social workers turned out every year by the traditional universities. We have circumstances where somebody wants to switch to an NGO after working for Tusla for two or three years. There is always going to be movement of staff in and out, no matter what we do. We can certainly work at strategies for retention and making the job more attractive. Deputy Rabbitte may well be right that there are possibilities in allowing social workers to focus on the professional job that is their priority.
I thank Mr. Rabbitte. He is most welcome. Like Deputy Sherlock, I find it a bit strange to see Mr. Rabbitte on the other side of the committee room, without his ministerial hat on. His offer for the committee to meet him and the members of the executive team is welcome. We have done that before. It is probably something we should formalise and do on a more regular basis. It would improve the committee's ability to perform its duties.
Other Deputies have touched on the lines of communication between committee members that enable us to perform our duties. As Mr. Rabbitte is probably aware and may recollect, in the previous Dáil term a circular was issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform instructing State agencies to set up an Oireachtas helpline or email service so that Members could liaise directly with an individual or group within any given Department or agency. Tusla needs to look at that more closely to improve its ability to communicate with us in a timely manner.
As Deputy Rabbitte has pointed out, it is impossible for us to entertain a specific query when there is an element of pot luck regarding who we get on the end of the phone. We will certainly not get an individual who is actually dealing with the specific case within the agency. As far as I am aware, none of us is a professional in this field. However, we have responsibilities. Certain aspects of our role present us with difficult cases. I am sure Mr. Rabbitte will be aware of the ongoing issues in Scouting Ireland which have brought numerous individuals to the doors of members of this committee and Members of the Oireachtas in general. Some of the cases are extremely difficult for the individuals in question and also for the Members of the Oireachtas who are attempting to support them. As Mr. Rabbitte has already commented on this issue, I am making a contribution rather than asking a question.
I would like to ask Mr. Rabbitte about the implementation of the strategic action plan in response to the HIQA investigation, which was published last summer. The investigation threw up a number of difficulties for Tusla and for other agencies as well. I refer, for example, to the question of whether they dealt with the Maurice McCabe issue in an effective manner. Would Mr. Rabbitte be able to bring aspects of his vast experience in these Houses to bear on Tusla? Does he think that elements of the HIQA report, which no doubt he has read or perused, should be implemented more quickly? Are there are any other suggestions emanating from it?
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I did not deal with Deputy Rabbitte's question about priorities. I will come back to it.
I have been looking at the question of an Oireachtas helpline in the context of a different aspect of the matter, which is answers to parliamentary questions. It is a very difficult area. The Minister is very exercised by this issue as well. I have had discussions with her about it. The report I have received on it suggests to me that there are inadequate resources devoted to this area. It is very important for the public to have confidence in Tusla. The people with whom I interact in this role are professionals who are really dedicated to doing their jobs. In my observation, they do not really engage very much with the outside world. I think we need to look at that. The business of answering parliamentary questions can be quite tricky because there is a very restricted space between when the questions come to us and when the answers need to be back with the Minister in time for her to prepare to go into the House. If the question is tricky - it is clear that many Deputies will not submit a question unless it is tricky - it can be very difficult to get in touch with the key hands-on person to source the information. I think we can improve the process. I think we need to improve it. I take the Chairman's general point about an Oireachtas helpline. We need to look at resources in this context.
We need to look at the possibility of a spokesperson for the agency. If one looks at many other bodies, one will find that they all have people, whom any member of this committee could name off the top of his or her head, who communicate to the Oireachtas and the world at large and who speak on radio and television about their areas of responsibility. We badly need such a person. It would be a shame if there were members of the public whose only knowledge of Tusla was the Maurice McCabe affair that was mentioned by the Chairman. Many good things are happening in Tusla, but we are not putting them out there. I agree with the Chairman that egregious errors were made in the Maurice McCabe situation. In my observation, Tusla as an organisation was entirely too defensive in the way it responded to it. I recently received a letter from the Charleton tribunal clarifying the point that Mr. Justice Charleton did not indict the agency. He indicted the local management and the local people concerned with the Cavan-Monaghan situation. That clarification was welcome. Nonetheless, I would say that in my observation, it unnecessarily convulsed the organisation. It was overly defensive about it. What happened should not have happened under any set of circumstances. We all make mistakes. When it happened, people should have come out and simply told the truth.
Obviously, the HIQA report referred to by the Chairman is to the centre and front in the tasks we now face. To go back to Deputy Rabbitte's question, one of my priorities for the agency is to continue to implement the recommendations of the HIQA report, insofar as resources permit. Good progress is being made. As the Chairman knows, the Minister has established an expert assurance group to ride shotgun on the implementation of those recommendations. There is regular engagement in that regard. In fact, I am meeting the chairman of the expert assurance group on Monday. Progress is being made. In some areas, we are back to the question of resources and priorities. If the members of this committee were confronted with a situation in which a choice had to be made about the protection and welfare of the children of today, as compared to historical or retrospective cases of many years ago, I think most of them would decide that we must firstly ensure no child today is at risk without an effective and immediate response from Tusla. One of HIQA's conclusions that seldom makes the headlines is that regardless of the deficiencies it highlights, it always points out that there has never been a risk to a child which has not received an immediate response from Tusla. That is very important. HIQA is very important in terms of driving standards and so on. By definition, it often engages in a fault-finding exercise.
We should remember, as Deputy Rabbitte said, that it is not very many years ago that we attached a very low importance to this area. Suddenly, there seems to be a universal expectation that we should be at leading-edge on every aspect of it, some five years after the agency was established. There is need for balance there.
The questions the Chairman raised are part of my priorities. My first priority is to put a chief executive in place. The post, notwithstanding the confidentiality which surrounds it, although I do not see why there is be, is being advertised on 8 March. That is a very important appointment for obvious reasons.
Staff retention and recruitment is a further priority. Continuing to implement the HIQA recommendations is another priority. I talked about improving communications to the public and the political environment and that is another priority. Addressing unallocated cases is a further priority, although not in terms of priority, as these are all matters that have to be progressed in sync. On the question of unallocated cases, it is comforting to be advised that there are not cases, which are not being attended to, piling up somewhere in a cupboard or a filing cabinet, and I have met the local management in Galway, I was in Mullingar last Friday and I have been in other areas. "Unallocated cases" does not mean they have not been screened. If there is any immediate risk to a child, that is attended to. That is important because people have the impression that if it is an unallocated case, it is not getting attention at all, and that it might be substantive and urgent.
In that regard, Deputy Rabbitte's point about whether staff have the tools of the trade to do the job is relevant because until last July, it was a paper-based system. That is a hugely significant point in the world we live in. It accounts for some of the criticisms of HIQA about discrepancies or inconsistencies in practice between different parts of the country and so on. I am advised that that IT system is working very well and is greeted with positivity by the staff also.
I wish to follow up on a point touched on by Mr. Rabbitte, in terms of his suggestion as a sort of spokesperson for the agency, that the inherent nature of the work that is completed by the agency tends, unfortunately, to be portrayed in the media as negative and never really positive. There are nonetheless so many services that the agency provides that the general public needs to hear about on a more regular basis. In those priorities listed by Mr. Rabbitte, the agency's communication with the general public on the family supports and resources that are available through it should become more central to the message that is being put out there by the agency. This is something that Mr. Rabbitte is considering. I will not dwell on this point other than to-----
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
At my first board meeting, the board was immensely supportive of that. I intended to plough ahead but on mature reflection, I felt that it might be more prudent to wait until a chief executive was in place because I do not think the recruitment of a spokesperson should be seen to function for the chairman. It should be for the agency and the chief executive who has the responsibility there. I agree that it is a position that-----
-----or significant matter. To be able to speak to somebody and get a referral to an individual within the agency who can make a significant difference in the life of a child or the family is imperative for me. I call Deputy Mitchell who will be followed Deputy Neville.
I wish Mr. Rabbitte all the best in this new role. I had questions to ask him but he has answered these. I want to touch on the promotion of Tusla. This is vital work. I am well aware of the fantastic work Tusla is doing across all communities in this State, in supporting families and young children. I recall speaking to the previous CEO and saying to him that this was something that we needed to get out there. These are the positive stories and good work that is being done in communities. I wish Mr. Rabbitte the very best with that and, hopefully, that will be taken on board. There are families who are not even aware that these services exist. I would very much like to see that being rolled out across communities.
I was very happy to hear Mr. Rabbitte talk about the retention of social workers. This is not only a problem for the agency, but it is also one for the children. We have children who have developed really good relationships with social workers that were built on trust. When social workers move on and a new social worker comes in and that trust needs to be rebuilt again. I welcome the fact Mr. Rabbitte talked about social work administrative staff. That is vital because we need our social workers on the ground, working with children and the families. We do not want to see them having to go back to offices and getting bogged down in administrative work. Does Mr. Rabbitte believe that we could look at the possibility of an internal operational review of that particular kind of work being carried out in Tusla itself?
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I thank the Deputy. The short answer to the point on promotion and explaining Tusla to the public is that there is general agreement on that. The board was supportive of the idea. I raised it at the first meeting I had with the Minister and she certainly thinks that it is a very good idea that the public should know and have confidence in the organisation and that some of the good work the Deputy referred to should be put out there by us.
Having said what I said about HIQA, and how somebody must invigilate standards and best practice, some of the HIQA material I have seen is very high quality as to rigour and so on, but by definition it is a fault-finding exercise. When the report comes out, one will find laid out very simply what the problems, deficiencies and non-compliance are. It is very easy to promote such material. There is rarely a pat on the head or an acknowledgement of the very many good things that are going on at the same time.
I agree with Deputy Mitchell that that should be done.
Unless the Deputy has a particular point to make on it, I would like to think that kind of internal review is going on all of the time. I have said to the board that in my experience I have never seen a more prescriptive piece of legislation than the statute that establishes Tusla. That reflects the circumstances in which it was born, and some of the high profile material that came into the public domain. It is hugely prescriptive and piled on top of that are several mechanisms of oversight. We have been discussing, for example, the expert advisory group. It seems to me, on balance, that it has been helpful because it has put a focus on that particular area and it has driven the agency to respond. The scale of oversight includes oversight agreements with the Department, protocols on this, memoranda of understanding on that, the expert advisory group, HIQA, performance statements, interaction with the Department, regular meetings with the Minister, structured meetings with the Minister meeting the board, and appearances before the Oireachtas committee. Any one of those could be very good on its own, but sometimes I wonder whether more is less and if the senior management can afford to apply itself to the job it should be doing. One cannot relegate the preparation of reports for the Department, the Minister, the Oireachtas committee or whomsoever to junior staff. It has to be done by the senior staff. We should be careful that we do not take away from what is their primary duty, namely, to drive change management and implement the matters that are now in the public domain. It is not that we do not know what needs to be done better, but it is having the time to cause it to happen.
Culture is a very difficult thing to tackle in any organisation. We have an inherited culture. There probably are people who say they have been doing this for 25 years and they know how it should be done, and they do not care how it is done in some other region. There is a culture there and, as Deputy Rabbitte said, times have changed. We need to confront that. Only senior management can drive that change programme.
I am sorry for being late but I was tied up with something else. I have a couple of quick questions for Mr. Rabbitte. I agree with what he said about the change in culture. It takes years to build culture and one can break it in a day. One can build the culture of a company and then it can just go in an instant. However, that does not contradict what Mr. Rabbitte just said about building up a good culture again.
I was on the Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care and I have worked in IT. We are coming from the outside. I have come across what was said about Tusla in other organisations and I am aware of how electronic communication fosters accountability. With electronic communication there is always someone at the other end and he or she can be identified. I was surprised and shocked to hear there is no electronic communication in Tusla. That has been highlighted on the mental health side as well in terms of the operation of public service organisations. There is correlation there as well and, as Mr. Rabbitte said, there needs to be catch-up. Coming from the outside I cannot understand why the catch-up did not happen earlier. I do not want to go back over old ground but I think that is the reason there was a lot of surprise and shock that such electronic communication did not exist.
Where are we in terms of the introduction of electronic communication in the change management agenda and the implementation of new systems, in particular mobile systems for social workers that free up their work so that they can be front of house? There are also systems that would help the business function of Tusla and free up the time of senior management. What is the level of progress with the change management process? Are we 50% there or 70% there? What is the status of electronic integration with the Garda? Some of the examples that were highlighted related to a communications breakdown or mismanagement. I should choose my words carefully. There was a mismanagement of communications between both sectors. Electronic communication was not there so there was no record. Even basic emails can work. I asked Mr. Rabbitte's predecessor about email consultation. It is an electronic form of communication, as opposed to paper communication.
I want to put on record the good work done by social workers and those on the front line in Tusla. I want that message to go out. Sometimes, we can harp on about things and it is our job to try to identify problems and turn stones over to find out where we can improve the system, but the message must not supersede what the system is there to do in the first place, namely, to provide protection. It is imperative on us to get that message out into the public domain as well. I would appreciate if Mr. Rabbitte could answer my question on change management. I thank him for coming before the committee.
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I thank Deputy Neville. His last point about the work social workers do is very important. Some of us would find it very difficult to do that job, week in, week out. People do suffer from burnout. I do not belong to the José Mourinho school of management where I criticise my own players. I do not think that is a good policy. There is a lot to praise in Tusla.
I am reluctant to answer Deputy Neville's question about the percentage of the change management process that has been achieved and whether it is 70% or more in terms of social workers having the mobility and wherewithal to do their jobs without being reliant on the old system.
I might make it easier for Mr. Rabbitte. Change management is happening and it has a timeline. Is it over two, three or four years? That is how it happens in any major organisation. I want to ascertain where Tusla is in the timeline for change management, as opposed to the specifics.
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
I think we are about half way there. It is important to remind ourselves that the agency came into being at the nadir of our fortunes economically. Deputy Neville is in a majority. People throw their hands up in amazement that we had a paper-based system until recently. The facts of the matter are that insufficient moneys were allocated during the foundation period of the agency for all of the reasons that we know. Fortunately, things have changed. Economic recovery has been faster than anybody suggested at the time. Whether it is even is a political question and does not concern us here. The Minister has found significant additional resources, especially in the past two years. People expert in the area assure me that the national childcare information system, NCCIS, is working very well. They place a lot of value on the fact that it is embraced by front-line staff.
There may be some exceptions to that about which I am not being told - I do not know - but, generally speaking, people see it as a positive. It certainly offers great possibilities with regard to the time wasted under the old system. As well as setting the foundation of the agency in the economic circumstances of 2014, we also have to recognise that we have had three chief executives in that very short time. I hope the chief executive will be confirmed in the post in the next couple of months, although that might be ambitious. Driving the change management programme has to be the priority of whoever is confirmed in the post. The expertise and professionalism is there in respect of the core business. The role of the chief executive has to be that of a manager. Driving that programme will be his or her priority. We have been talking to the Public Appointments Service, PAS. As I have said, the post will be advertised on 8 March. I cannot give the committee any assessment of how quick or how successful the process will be.
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
It is. We are talking about an organisation with 4,000 employees and 500 agency staff which has a very precise statutory obligation to discharge in a very complex and sensitive area. Would every chief executive out there apply for the job with the salary and duration of tenure offered? The duration also concerns me. I have made representations to the Minister on both the salary and the duration. If one was to look for somebody outside of the jurisdiction, would such a person transfer to Ireland for a five-year term in light of the present day housing circumstances and other issues? The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will always provide reasons for not changing the salary. That is its natural impulse, for obvious reasons.
Mr. Pat Rabbitte:
Yes, but why should the seven-year term which is the norm in Government Departments not apply to this kind of appointment? There is a strong argument for a seven-year term. I do not know this for a fact, but did PAS not have to go back to seek a chief executive of the HSE a second time and were changes not made to the conditions? I do not know that for a fact, but I believe it might have been the case. I would rather see us put our best foot forward on the first attempt to recruit someone rather than failing and having to start over again in three months.
I have one final issue to raise. I do not expect a substantive answer at this stage. I want to put on record the fact that this committee had been dealing with matters in Scouting Ireland and that a helpline has now been set up. More than 200 cases, and possibly well in excess of that number, have been reported inThe Irish Times. If we are talking about the relationship between the Oireachtas and Tusla, my concern is that there should be some understanding of the dynamic between Tusla and Scouting Ireland in respect of the handling of those cases. If the number of cases has gone north of 200 - and there is a Scouting Ireland helpline in respect of that issue - I would like to return to the issue at some point in the future, perhaps when the chief executive has been appointed, in order to inform ourselves of the dynamic that exists with regard to the handling of those cases. I do not even expect a response to that point at this juncture. I just wished to put it on the record.
That was a worthy intervention from Deputy Sherlock because it is something which ultimately affects 50,000 members. It is important for us, as a committee, to be able to stand over the information that comes to us from a variety of sources. On behalf of the members I wish Mr. Rabbitte all the very best in his new role and thank him for coming before the committee. The meeting of the committee is adjourned until Wednesday, 13 March at 10 a.m., when the committee will meet with the Irish Foster Care Association and the Irish Association of Social Workers to discuss the recruitment and retention of social workers. Members are reminded that the select committee will meet on Wednesday, 6 March at 4.30 p.m. to discuss the Revised Estimates for 2019 in respect of Vote 40 - Children and Youth Affairs with the Minister.