Thursday, 2 December 2021
Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
144. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the extent to which his Department continues to receive updates in respect of children at risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59737/21]
149. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the extent to which reports of children at risk continue to be made to the appropriate bodies under his aegis; the extent to which these issues have been examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59742/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 144 and 149 together.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has a statutory duty to respond to reports of children who may not be receiving adequate care and protection. Tusla assesses the information received and the child and family’s situation, and provides appropriate social work intervention and family support services. Where necessary in the best interest of the child, children are received into the care of Tusla.
Tusla has a dedicated Quality Assurance Team which produces monthly, quarterly and annual reports in respect of Tusla's functions, including detailed reporting on child safety and protection services. Most recent reports indicate that Tusla received 6,405 child protection and welfare referrals in September 2021, 748 (13%) more than August 2021 (5,657) and 294 (5%) more than September 2020 (6,111). The reports are published on Tusla's website and are scrutinised by my officials. Issues of note are brought to my attention. The reports provide statistical evidence of improvements to child welfare and protection services and highlight challenges and areas where further improvement is required, such as the recruitment of additional social workers.
Additionally, Tusla child protection and welfare, and alternative care services are inspected against the relevant Standards and Regulations by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). These inspection reports are also published, and the findings used to inform the development and improvement of services within Tusla. HIQA's most recent thematic report of 12 child protection services was positive, identifying improvements in governance and oversight by Tusla managers. The reports include many positive comments by parents and children of their experience with social workers and give examples of good practice and dedicated staff. However, some areas continue to identify challenges in maintaining a consistently high standard of service, often ascribed to the the impact of staffing shortages, and difficulties in finding appropriate placements for children and young people.
Officials from my Department meet Tusla management on a regular basis to review the level of service provision, including areas in need of improvement. The recruitment and retention of social workers is a priority for Tusla, and in that regard there is a significant amount of work being done, both by Tusla and my officials, to increase the recruitment of social workers.
145. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the total number of children currently in the various forms of care, institutional or otherwise; the degree to which he is satisfied with the level and quality of the case in all such situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59738/21]
In relation to the figures requested by the Deputy, I am informed by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, that at the end of September 2021 there were 5,841 children in care. This total may be further broken down into the number of children in each placement type, as follows:
- Special care: 17 children
- General residential care: 430 children
- General foster care: 3,782 children
- Relative foster care: 1,489 children
- Other care placements: 123 children.
With regard to the Deputy's question concerning the quality of various forms of alternative care, there are a wide range of safety and quality assurance controls in place to provide oversight of the quality and safety of placements for children in care. Tusla and my Department are committed to promoting safe practice in all areas of alternative care.
Once a child has been received into care, the most crucial task for the social worker is to find a placement that matches that child's needs. Children, depending on their identified need, may be placed in foster care either with relatives or general foster carers, in residential care, special care or other placement types. A key part of the social worker role is to develop, in consultation with the child and relevant others, a care plan which will guide the quality and safety of the child's placement, and to meet with the child on a one to one basis on all visits.
Regulations and Standards govern the placement of children in care. These provide for the welfare of the child, the care practices, care records, accommodation and safety precautions. The Regulations also provide that the allocated social worker oversees the implementation of the child's care plan, visits the child and consults with family members, foster carers and other people involved with the child to ensure that his or her needs are being met and that the care being provided is optimal.
HIQA has an independent statutory function under the 2004 Health Act requiring this independent statutory agency to inspect and monitor Tusla fostering and residential services. HIQA carries out announced and unannounced inspections of children’s services including Child Protection and Welfare Services, Foster Care Services, statutory Children’s Residential Centres and Special Care units. Tusla’s Alternative Care Inspection and Monitoring Service carries out themed inspections of non-statutory (private) residential and fostering services, in line with HIQA standards. In addition, Tusla Alternative Care Inspection and Monitoring Service provides internal monitoring of the quality of care in its statutory centres.
Tusla’s Performance management system reviews the key performance metrics relating to services provided to children in state care, reporting on children in care with an up-to-date written care plan, reviewed regularly and the allocation of a social worker to children in care and the allocation of fostering link social workers to foster carers. In 2020 Tusla’s Practice Assurance and Service Monitoring (PASM) team conducted a programme of 134 practice audits of Tusla child protection and welfare, alternative care and children's residential care services. Tusla also operates a range of internal quality assurance processes within local areas including:
- an incident and risk management policy,
- systems to review significant events and incidents for the purpose of monitoring,
- service improvement and learning processes,
- and the complaints and feedback policy ‘Tell Us’.
The foregoing sets out the safeguards in place with regard to all placements of children in care. Tusla in discharging its statutory responsibilities under the Child Care Acts must have the best interests of the child as its paramount consideration. It actively monitors every placement of every child in care to ensure its appropriateness to the needs of that child, and any concerns or breaches of standards are addressed in this context.