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Tusla inquiries are a 'major distraction' according to chief executive

McBride was speaking at the launch of Tusla’s new child protection and welfare strategy for 2017-2022.

Tusla chief executive Fred McBride
Tusla chief executive Fred McBride
Image: Leah Farrell/Rolling News

THE SCRUTINY TUSLA  is currently being put under is causing “significant challenges and difficulties” to the agency, according to its chief executive.

The Child and Family Agency Tusla came in for serious controversy earlier this year when it came to light that a Tusla file contained information which falsely accused Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe of child sex-abuse.

Tusla’s chief executive Fred McBride offered his apologies to those affected by the agency’s mistakes after the incident came to the public’s attention.

In March, TheJournal.ie revealed that Tusla lost a disclosure of alleged serious physical, sexual, and mental abuse by a woman against her father for more than three years. A series of errors in the handling of this case spanned almost six years and led to multiple apologies from both the HSE and Tusla.

Last month, the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) found that a member of the board of the former Family Support Agency overclaimed €43,966 in expenses. The Family Support Agency (FSA) became part of Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) in January 2014 and was a publicly funded body.

McBride said that there is a “real risk” the level of scrutiny that the agency is under will cause a “major distraction” to the work they are doing in the protection of children.

“We’re not going to let that derail us but it is difficult, make no mistake, it is difficult for staff and for me not to experience that level of scrutiny as almost a degree of hostility,” McBride said.

McBride was speaking at the launch of Tusla’s new child protection and welfare strategy for 2017-2022. The strategy comes as part of Tusla’s ongoing programme of change and includes a new national approach to practice.

Scrutiny

While McBride said that the scrutiny is welcome, he said that the agency doesn’t need scrutiny to tell it what changes need to be made.

“We already know what needs to be done. That’s been the case here, we knew what we needed to do. We knew the transformation programme we needed to embark upon. We knew we wanted Signs of Safety as a practice tool to base that transformation on,” McBride told TheJournal.ie.

The agency has begun working with Signs of Safety, an organisation with an approach to child protection casework grounded in partnership and collaboration with children, families and their wider support networks.

Signs of Safety will see Tusla take a new ‘children first’ approach to its work, with children and families at the centre of assessments and decision-making.

He noted that the some of the scrutiny processes that the Tusla is being subjected to are overlapping with each other.

“The ability and the capacity in our system to cope with it at the same time is causing significant challenges and difficulties. It will cause risks to us being able to continue to deliver our day-to-day business, which is trying to improve the protection of children,” he said.

“We have no problem with scrutiny at all, we want to be as transparent as we can to views and ideas and to learning as much as we can but the level of scrutiny at the moment, in my view, is completely, completely disproportionate to the issues that are at hand.”

These remarks come just a week after Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire told the Dáil that the agency is losing 150 social workers a year.

Current status quo

McBride told TheJournal.ie that the new strategy was decided upon when the management team came to the conclusion that Tusla’s status quo was was no longer working.

“The status quo wasn’t working as well as it should. We needed a fundamental change of thinking in terms of how we intervene with private family life,” McBride said.

“The notion that state agencies have all the answers and can impose solutions has proven not to be effective.”

Speaking at the launch Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone said: “I welcome this comprehensive and child centred Child Protection and Welfare Strategy, launched today by Tusla.”

“I am very aware that this is a sensitive and challenging area of work; families will be clearly supported and children protected by Tusla. Social workers will be guided in their work and aspirations by the high expectations, which they support, in this strategy,” Zappone said.

Read: ‘Behind each of these numbers is a child that needs help’: The business of fostering in Ireland

More: Tusla warns that child protection reports may not have been received over weekend

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