Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

2:30 pm

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome to the House, and to familiar territory, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the report into Tusla which was carried out at my direction by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. At the outset I wish to thank HIQA for its report, which is frank, clear and helpful. Through this report it has identified how we can provide better services for our children. Children are, of course, at the centre of what we do and they will be at the centre of our response.

Although HIQA has identified deficits in the child protection services provided by Tusla, it is important to say that the report found children at immediate risk received an appropriate and timely service. Following the revelation last year that Tusla had sent a notification containing a false allegation of child sexual abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe to An Garda Síochána, I became concerned that there may be more systemic issues which needed to be addressed by the Child and Family Agency.

In regard to Sergeant McCabe, I would like to say that I welcome the restating of Tusla’s apology to him. I know that the events which triggered this statutory investigation were devastating for him and his family. This investigation did not examine issues pertaining to his case as it is included in the work of the disclosures tribunal. Not for the first time, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, at a personal cost to himself, has done a service to the State.

I am committed to implementing all the recommendations from this report in full. Intensive work is already under way in Tusla and in my Department to ensure this happens. This commitment is shared by the chair, board and CEO of Tusla. When this is done, I believe Tusla will be better equipped to carry out the child protection functions which are so necessary in our country today.

We knew from previous work done by HIQA that issues were identified in inspection reports on foster care and the child welfare and protection services. I am conscious that considerable public funding has been made available to enable the modernisation and transformation strategy that is under way in Tusla. I need to ensure that these public funds are having the impact they are intended to have.

In response to my direction in March last year to HIQA to carry out a statutory investigation into Tusla’s national practices in the handling of referrals of allegations of sexual abuse which involve adults of concern, HIQA has produced a report which clearly captures the progress and problems that were evident at the time the investigation took place.In particular HIQA finds that child sexual abuse referrals, including retrospective allegations, were not always managed in a timely or effective way from the point of referral to the point of closure. There was a variation in the level of adherence to Tusla policies and procedures and standard business processes for referrals. There was no nationally agreed arrangement in place to ensure effective and consistent information sharing between Tusla and An Garda Síochána. There were gaps in resource planning and critical social work posts remained vacant to varying degrees across the service areas.

HIQA's point about needing an innovative approach to workforce planning is well made. We are coming from a position of low numbers of social workers per head of population in all areas, including child protection. However, the report from HIQA states clearly that, "Tusla has to manage the same workforce challenges faced by other jurisdictions [...] and avoid an organisational mind-set that sees such problems as insurmountable due to factors outside of its control". This will require a deeper examination of work practices and roles to make sure the teams are working to the greatest effect on children's lives. Front-line teams need additional support and ongoing training to enable them to use their considerable skills in the most challenging of work and in a very high risk environment. The recommendations identified specific actions for Tusla to act on directly. They also identified areas for engagement by my Department with Tusla and HIQA to support these and to look at the overall regulatory environment.

To move forward, I immediately appointed Dr. Moling Ryan as an independent chair to implement the recommendation on setting up the quality assurance advisory oversight group. The work of this group will examine the links between the action plan with Tusla's five-year child welfare and protection strategy and its three-year corporate plan. In addition, my officials will engage with HIQA as to the kind of regulatory framework for child welfare and protection services that would be suitable for the Irish context. HIQA is our expert in the social services regulatory field and I welcome its involvement. I had a very productive meeting with the CEO of Tusla this morning. I will be meeting the board of Tusla shortly to discuss the short and long-term implications of the report's findings and to discuss how to urgently drive the improvements that are needed.

Turning for a moment to the report itself, it says that it was evident that there had been considerable financial investment by the Government. HIQA states that there is a clear strategic direction for Tusla and its services. This direction is not fully incorporated into practices at local level. In addition, the report is clear that the front-line teams are dedicated to the welfare and protection of children, and engaged positively with the investigation, which I welcome. This is very much in line with my own experience of meeting with front-line teams throughout the country.

However, it was still the case that a key finding in the report was that there are systemic risks which require immediate attention and which pose a potential risk of harm to children. Mr. Fred McBride as chief executive officer, CEO, has acknowledged that improvement is needed and he and his team will deliver on this. They will have my full support, the support of the board of Tusla, my Department and the Government. Tusla’s appearance before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs - some of the Senators were present and grilled Tusla - provided colleagues with an opportunity to question the senior management of the agency. It is important that Tusla understands the concerns raised by Senators and Deputies who have read the report but who also have "on the ground" experience about child protection services. The Oireachtas joint committee provided Tusla with an opportunity to explain from its perspective how cases are managed and how risk is minimised.

I know that Tusla is anxious to convey the message that it is not possible to eliminate all risk. Sexual abuse is a secretive act, there is shame, there is denial and there is concealment. A reflective learning culture is essential to good practice and early identification of previously unknown risks. Using experience is also a way to minimise the risks. Tusla has recently appointed a chief social worker. Part of the role of the chief social worker is to ensure that learning is shared across the organisation. This has not been happening to the extent that it should.This has not been happening to the extent it should and HIQA was very clear about it. I expect this to change and I am assured it will. Senior social work practitioners will be part of the duty teams. This should improve early identification of risks at the front door.

With regard to retrospective allegations, I am working with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the future role of Tusla and An Garda Síochána in the handling of such cases. Tusla's role has evolved from case law and needs to be considered further. In the interim, Tusla's policy and procedures for retrospective allegations have been fully reviewed and will be available in the near future.

The overall message is that there is an ongoing modernisation programme. However, it needs impetus and focus. This report serves to bring the actions needed into focus and sets a clear path forward. HIQA's findings are serious. Its recommendations will not be left on a shelf. They will be implemented as they are intended to be to provide a more responsive, better and comprehensive service to our Irish children whom we have a responsibility to nurture, protect and respect.

Photo of Lorraine Clifford LeeLorraine Clifford Lee (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming here today to discuss this very important report. It is a very serious report that makes for very sobering reading. We have had almost a week to digest it. I was at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs last week when Fred McBride appeared before it. To be honest, I would have very serious concerns about his leadership. It is clear that there was a management failure at the top. In her speech, I think the Minister referred to the fact that front-line workers are very dedicated to the service they are providing. The Government is funding the service to a reasonable extent but there seems to be a disconnect between the funding, front-line workers and delivery, which is very concerning.

The report is very comprehensive. I appreciate that a report as comprehensive as this one needs adequate time but I was a bit disappointed that it took a year to produce. However, we have it now. The failures around the systems and policies that were referenced in the report are very concerning. There seems to be a lack of urgency around everything in Tusla. I think we would have cut it some slack when it was in its infancy but four years after its establishment, there should be far more urgency with regard to getting the systems and policies up to speed and ensuring they are correct and working properly.

The lack of staff is one issue but even where there is no lack of staff and where it is adequately staffed, there are problems relating to processes that are in place. When failings occur, there seems to be a lack of supervision around the failings and a lack of learning from those failings. The management style does not seem to equate to the organisation being a learning experience, which is very concerning.

Another thing that is of concern is the relationship between the Child and Family Agency and An Garda Síochána and the fact that the two organisations do not seem to be exchanging information adequately. This occurs at a number of levels. One issue of serious concerning that I raised at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs last week was the fact that joint interviewing did not take place as standard. I was told that it is taking place, although not to a great extent. It needs to take place as standard. Social workers need to be trained as a matter of urgency in that regard.

We must bear in mind that we are talking about vulnerable children. They should be at the centre of everything we do in this regard. It is very upsetting to hear that files have been closed inappropriately. The number of files that are still out there awaiting allocation is staggering. I would have a lack of faith in the actual numbers we have been given when it says in the report that files have been closed inappropriately. This is something I would like the Minister to address in her response. Throughout her speech, the Minister recognised that there were deficits. She mentioned that she was going to implement the recommendations made in the report in full. She also said she had appointed Dr. Ryan as an independent chairperson and that this would move things on. However, throughout the entire speech, I do not see any timeline, which is concerning. We need to be given a clear timeline. If the recommendations and policies are not put in place within a short timeframe, I want to know where the buck will stop. Will it stop with the Minister or Mr. McBride? We need some answers. The Minister has invested in this process. I accept her sincerity in that regard and know that she will do her best. However, it needs to be given more urgency and we need clear timelines and to know what the consequences will be if they are not adhered to. I would appreciate the Minister's response in that regard.

My final point relates to the part of the Minister's speech where she says there is a low number of social workers in the system per head of population. Will she make proposals on how to attract people from other disciplines into the system? I know that there is a low number of people training to be social workers, but, despite this, there are those with life and academic experience in other areas who, if the right incentives were in place, could be retrained and brought into the system, bringing a lot of experience with them, including institutional experience. I would appreciate it if the Minister made reference to that matter in her response.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I also thank her for calling for this report which stemmed from the investigation of Tusla’s management of the false allegation made about the Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Like most others, I was truly shocked to hear such major failings had occurred in how Tusla managed allegations of child sexual abuse. HIQA's report highlights the fact that in a number of cases children were left in potentially high risk situations. In my view and that of most reasonable people, including the Minister, this is not only unacceptable, it is also wholly objectionable. The report also identifies serious shortcomings in the screening of child abuse allegations, the development and handling of safety plans for children and the manner in which those subjected to allegations of abuse were communicated with.

Without doubt, the most serious finding made in the report is that there were discrepancies in Tusla’s safety planning practice. This resulted in a number of children being insufficiently safeguarded, while others who also were at potential risk were not safeguarded at all. Moreover, the absence of a streamlined approach for staff to manage allegations made by adults of abuse during their childhood is also completely unacceptable and, frankly, appalling. The lack of a standardised approach has led to inconsistencies and postponements in the management of such cases which have been well discussed. Moreover, it led to the mishandling of the communications on the allegations, if, in fact, any communication took place at all. As legislators, the onus is on us to guarantee that our most vulnerable citizens receive the optimum care we can provide. Where there are incidents of child sexual abuse or cases in which adults have made allegations that they were abused as children, there can be no tolerance of inadequacies such as those which have been highlighted in the report. It is shameful that children are being left at risk of sexual abuse owing to discrepancies in how preliminary inquiries into allegations take place. As Tusla representatives noted at the committee meeting last week, it is difficult on all occasions for Tusla to detect when children are in danger, which is understandable, given the nature of what we are dealing with. It manages risk all of the time and it is a very difficult job for those at the coal face. Nonetheless, there can be no tolerance of the inadequacies such as those highlighted.

The report makes four main recommendations to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. They include establishing an expert quality assurance and oversight group and that the Department and Tusla seek the assistance of the higher education and training bodies to create formal career paths for students and graduates to reinforce child protection and welfare services. Other recommendations have been discussed.

I commend the Minister for her clarity in calling for the recommendations arising from a statutory investigation carried out by HIQA of the management by Tusla of allegations of child sexual abuse against adults to be implemented in full. I also commend her for outlining a number of immediate actions to be taken, including the appointment of Dr. Ryan to chair an independent expert quality assurance and oversight group to drive implementation of HIQA’s recommendations. However, I share Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee's concerns about the timeframe and would be grateful if the Minister outlined it for us. The actions also include finalising proposals, in conjunction with the Minister for Justice and Equality, for reforming the way Tusla and An Garda Síochána deal with historical allegations of sexual abuse, as well as engaging with the Minister for Education and Skills and higher education and training establishments to support Tusla’s workforce. This is an important point which I made at the committee meeting. We were speaking about the management of Tusla, but it is front-line staff who often have to deal with the negativity that naturally goes with the type of feedback a report such this has received. Management is at a distance from the harrowing day-to-day situations with which staff deal. There is an onus on management to protect the staff of Tusla by having proper policies in place for these difficult scenarios.

Other suggested actions include using specialist HR expertise to work with Tusla on its skill mix. This also came up at the committee, given the fact that there is an ongoing challenge when it comes to the mix of skills available in Tusla. Its representatives spoke about the work they had done in trying to reform the way recruitment took place. Certainly, those in charge of Tusla fully recognise that there were inadequacies in the way it had been done in the past. They seemed to be genuinely and actively trying to rectify the position in the new processes.

At this point, it important to point to some positives in the report. In fact, the findings identify examples of good practice by Tusla personnel and a strong commitment on the part of a number of dedicated staff who were striving to provide for best practice in child welfare and protection services. The Minister has spoken about the huge investment the Government has made in the area. In the wider area of child welfare and protection it must be acknowledged that the front-line teams of care and social workers who are supporting children, young people and families do invaluable work to transform young lives, notwithstanding the obvious inadequacies discovered on occasion. Significant progress has been made in dealing with important issues such as the mandatory reporting of abuse, the expansion of the number of family resource centres and the ongoing move towards providing better supports for the victims of child sexual abuse. While this progress is very welcome, the fact remains the report highlights serious inconsistencies in the handling of child sexual abuse cases which simply cannot be tolerated. As such, we need to be formidable in our determination to tackle these issues head-on in order to safeguard children and ensure they receive the protection and support they need and deserve. I intend to work with my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister who I have no doubt is committed to this task. I commend her and her officials for their work.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss the report. The inconsistencies raised in the HIQA report are stark, as the Minister said. It damages confidence significantly in a body that is our first defence in child protection in this State.

I am glad that at the outset of her contribution the Minister acknowledged the source of this report in terms of what Sergeant Maurice McCabe has suffered. In our worst nightmare we cannot imagine the horror suffered by him and his family because of what was done to them.

I would not imagine that Maurice McCabe is the only person who has suffered because mistakes were made in the system. Over recent years, consistent serious shortcomings in the governance and oversight of the organisation have been highlighted. The organisation is suffering from a staffing crisis. In a Committee of Public Accounts, PAC, report in January 2018, we found that despite Tusla hiring 250 new staff in 2017, there was only a net gain of 18 due to the high numbers leaving the agency. Tusla is also expecting a €11.4 million underspend in the area of staff wages.

It seems clear that there are significant issues with staff deployment and retention. It is very obvious that many social workers are overworked and carry huge case loads which are impossible to deal with. Those staff work directly with children, some of them very vulnerable and with whom they need to build up a long-term working relationship that is based on trust. We must remember that there is nobody many of these children have been able to trust. In some cases they have not been able to trust either of their parents. They need a relationship where that trust can be built and cultivated. Without it, the damage that will be done will be immense. That is the reason the retention of staff is vitally important and we need to see serious improvement in this area.

The Minister talked about reflective learning. I am very much for reflective learning but that is not possible when social workers do not have the time to do even the crisis management they have to do within that system. We need to listen to the social workers working in the area. We need to listen also to the social workers who have left. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a social worker who goes into work every day thinking they might miss something or that they will not do what they need to do and who experiences all that pain and suffering, without having time to reflect or even put in the protections they need to put in for themselves as social workers. They cannot do that when they are in a constant crisis management situation.

What actions are Tusla and the Department taking to restructure that to ensure that social workers are able to handle their case load effectively, that they are satisfied and retained in their work and that the grade of advanced social work practitioner is reinstated? We want people to go into social work. It is a dedicated job that requires passion and compassion but we will not be able to keep those people in the system, and attract others into it who would make very good social workers, if we continue to expose them, and the people they work with, to the risk to which they are currently being exposed.

The report shows a clear lapse in the defences we have for children in this State that needs to be remedied sooner rather than later. The children we are now failing will be adults by the time we address that, and that is my big fear. We cannot lose an entire generation. I acknowledge the good work done by Tusla and the many good people in Tusla who are dedicated to their jobs but they cannot do them unless they are given the resources, the support and adequate staffing to address the need they are trying to deal with every day.

I am glad the Minister said this report will not rest on a shelf. I hope it will not. I hope she will come into the Seanad again to tell us of the practical and pragmatic actions that have been taken that make a difference on the ground to children, to families and to the many dedicated workers who are trying to do their very best in a system that is currently not fit for purpose.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire ar ais chuig an Seanad. I concur with my Sinn Féin colleague. The current position with Tusla as highlighted in the HIQA report means we are failing children and their interactions with youth services.

The report highlighted a number of key performances where Tusla is failing in its duties, one of which was the inconsistencies in practice around the screening of allegations and making preliminary inquiries. While Tusla focused on examining current risk to children, that often resulted in a lack of urgency in responding to retrospective allegations of abuse against adults of concern. This meant that children who are potentially at risk from adults who are alleged to have abused children in the past or who were convicted of child sexual abuse in the past and now have access to other children may be missed.

I am particularly concerned as to how Tusla and the Department intend to deal with retrospective child protection cases that Tusla has now deemed to be completed or closed but were not investigated to their full extent. Will the Minister outline the steps she intends to make on this?

Furthermore, what immediate steps can she take to aid Tusla with its heavy case load? In response to a parliamentary question from my colleague, Deputy Denise Mitchell, in March, the Minister said there were 25,000 open cases in the system at the end of December 2017, of which 5,000 were awaiting the allocation of a social worker. Of those cases, there were a number of high priority cases, where a child is considered to be at high risk of abuse, with unallocated social workers. Of those, 198 were waiting under one month, 189 were waiting between one to three months and 346 were waiting three months or more. Tusla was unable to provide a waiting time for a further 87 cases. That is indicative of poor record keeping.

I am cognisant not just of the Health Service Executive, HSE, which is rightly getting a battering lately for its policies, procedures and lack of care, especially for women, but I am cognisant also of the hard working staff in Tusla. They were my colleagues and many of them tell me they are terrified of going out socially and people asking them what they do. They will not say they work for Tusla. They are subjected to abuse because they are being blamed for the mismanagement of the policies and the report that has been produced. These are the ordinary people, like the HSE staff, who are fire fighting because that is all they can do lately. Recruitment and retention is the biggest issue. As my colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh said, there has been a gain of only 18 despite an influx of social work staff. We cannot have a situation where caring staff are ashamed of their title and of their work. I want to put on the record that that is not their fault. They are the backbone in terms of protection for children and health services in our country.

We have failed to fully implement issues arising from last year’s report into section 12 of the Child Care Act by Professor Geoffrey Shannon. He stated: "Consideration should be given to having social workers assigned to specialist child protection units", and that there should be a review of legislation to ensure that there are no legal roadblocks which might impede, "child protection services sharing information relating to vulnerable children and their families". Will the Government now consider specialist child protection units to ensure that no child is failed again? As I am sure we all agree, one child failed is one too many and the current failings of Tusla, as outlined in the report, is a calamity.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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I thank the Senators for their helpful contributions. It is clear that they have spent some time reading and reflecting deeply on the report and, where the social services provided through Tusla are concerned, have been in touch with colleagues and those who work within their communities. All of them have referred to the commitment of and excellent work being done by the organisation's people on the ground. I acknowledge and express my gratitude for that work. It is a difficult time, given how critical the report has been of many aspects of the organisation. I am at one with Senators in that regard. I am also at one with the board and chief executive who are also in communication with the people concerned and have expressed their willingness to support them in a new way and commit to the sense of urgency for which all of the Senators have called.

I will respond first to the Senators' focus on the people providing the services and what we owe them in difficult work circumstances. All of the Senators referred to the sense of urgency. I have communicated to the chairperson and the chief executive directly that I will also be seeking urgency. HIQA is also seeking it.

The first recommendation is for Tusla to develop an action plan that will respond to all aspects of the report. When I spoke to the chief executive this morning, he stated Tusla was working on it. When I meet the board at the end of this week, we will discuss it further. The chief executive stated it would take a maximum of a couple of weeks to put the plan together. It will not only outline what is to happen but also who will be responsible and what the timelines and deadlines will be. HIQA has asked that Tusla, after it examines the recommendations and develops the action plan in response, revert to it with information on the timelines for the various actions to be taken. I will ask HIQA to advise me on whether it believes the timelines are suitable.

Regarding the recommendation on establishing an oversight or quality assurance group to ensure implementation of the recommendations and action plan, the House will be aware that I appointed the independent Dr. Moling Ryan to chair the group. My officials have already met him and will do so again tomorrow. They are undertaking a process of agreeing the group's membership and terms of reference. Dr. Ryan will probably have read the report thoroughly by tomorrow and will make recommendations on the categories of members to be included - it will not be a large group - and the terms of reference that will be needed if the group is to do its work, which is targeted at the report's recommendations. My understanding is those involved hope to have the process completed and the people gathered to do the work by next month and that the work will start in September. That said, we need to keep an eye on the ongoing timeframe. I will be happy to revert to the House on the matter. I am trying to describe an awareness of the need for timelines, given the sense of urgency involved.

The second question raised by the Senators was related to staffing issues, which were a key aspect of the significant criticisms raised in HIQA's report, as well as its recommendations. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh asked what it was like to be a social worker. Social workers face challenges and difficulties and want more colleagues to share the work. That is a key issue and we will approach it in a number of ways, one of which will be engagement with the higher education sector. This medium to long-term approach is meant to increase the number of professionally qualified social workers on which Tusla can draw. It has been liaising with third level institutions in the Republic, Northern Ireland and Great Britain. There are a limited number of graduates per year. Since they make a significant contribution to Tusla, it is important that it liaise with other jurisdictions also.

The Senators may be interested to know that we have been working with the Department of Health which has the lead role in the national strategic framework for health and social care workforce planning. In addition, my Department has been working with the Department of Health and Tusla in examining the various relevant issues over a period. That said, we need to increase the tempo in that regard. I met the Minister for Education and Skills last week to discuss the issue. We agreed that his officials would work with mine in considering the need for additional social work training places and specific courses within the overall degree programme and in examining other aspects of higher education training for social workers that could not just lead to more workers but also allow us to draw on others' expertise and training. Practical issues such as these will feed into the discussions with officials and the Minister for Education and Skills on the mix of skills, workflows and staff in Tusla recommended in the report. We will work with the third level sector to determine how we can not just train more people but also train more differently.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee asked about training people from different backgrounds. Mature students are welcome to apply for social work training. When I met the chief executive and the chief operations officer this morning, they told me that Tusla offered training bursaries. They want to draw on people from different backgrounds. My officials are engaging with the Department of Education and Skills on the issue of increasing the number of training places.

I wish to address two other aspects of the human resources issue. We need to do something before the medium term hits and more social workers have been attracted into the system. I will appoint an independent human resources expert to Dr. Ryan's group who will work specifically on immediate plans for a different staff mix and workflow in order that social workers will be able to focus more on their social work, as distinct from the other necessary aspects of working with families and children. The other aspect would have to do with the retention of social workers. Obviously, we need to bring them in but we also need to keep them. Senior practice social workers are going to be on every child protection team and senior social workers are going to be deployed to all duty teams. Tusla has a welfare strategy for social workers who experience stress. All of these issues have been identified with regard to the changes that would be required to support the social workers who are there and want to stay because of their great commitment and their sense of vocation for what they are doing, as well as it being a profession.

The Senator also had questions around the relationship between the Garda Síochána and Tusla. The two bodies have developed a draft memorandum of understanding on information and data protection issues, given these have been some of the challenging aspects of working together that have slowed down some of the processes. We now have a draft memorandum of understanding in regard to the way they share their information. My understanding from my officials is that this should finally be agreed within a short period of time, that is, within the next couple of weeks. It has been developed to ensure there is no practical or legislative roadblock that impedes the sharing of child protection information between the Garda and Tusla. Equally, there is no legal barrier to the sharing of that information for child protection purposes, which is very important.

A question was also raised on another aspect, namely, specialist interviewing. The Garda Síochána and Tusla are examining the development of additional specialist training to improve this area and they are working together, especially with regard to gardaí training Tusla staff, in order to identify more people who can do that specialist interviewing with children.

Senator Devine also asked about specialist child protection units, which we have been working on in light of Professor Shannon's report. We are working with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda in regard to developing a proposal, and I hope it will be completed to the point where we can, in the fall, identify at least some form of piloting approach to that. While that is all I will say for the moment, there have certainly been many meetings, much thinking and the development of strategies with the Garda, as well as with my own Department.

In addition, to date in 2018 the Garda Síochána has established four divisional protection units - in Cork, Louth, Blanchardstown and Clondalkin. Tusla is working with the Garda Síochána in assigning child protection social workers to work with each unit and a further eight units are expected to be open in the coming months. I have tried to identity some of the key ways in which new actions which have been in the process of being designed are ready to, or are actually beginning to, be delivered, which I think and hope will make a significant difference.

Senator Clifford-Lee asked who is responsible. The questions of oversight and governance are critical, especially in the agency that protects our children. There is a board and there is also a chief executive. The oversight group will oversee and quality assure the implementation of this report, and although it will not oversee the whole thing, it will have some responsibility in terms of oversight in that regard. Ultimately, however, I am responsible. I certainly feel very aware of and committed to assuring the recommendations of this report are implemented with a great sense of urgency. That is why we have already tried to act on some of them. Overall, it is my Ministry. The chief executive also acknowledged at the committee that he too is responsible, given the level he is at within the organisation, and he is taking that very seriously.

It is given those different levels of accountability and oversight, as well as the changes I am indicating and the ways in which we are going to implement the recommendations, that I believe this provides us with the opportunity to move into a new period for Tusla. The HIQA report states that the vision is good and that the strategic policies at national level, which have been developing in recent years, are good and strong, but it is not enough. That is what our work is for the next period of time.

Sitting suspended at 5.35 p.m. and resumed at 5.45 p.m.