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Child Protection

Tusla struggling to recruit social workers amid large increase in child welfare referrals, CEO says

In the last decade, the number of child welfare referrals has more than doubled from 43,630 to over 90,000.

TUSLA IS STRUGGLING to recruit and retain social workers amid a large increase in the number of child protection and welfare referrals sent to the agency, its CEO has said.

Kate Duggan said progress has been made in recruiting some staff but, in terms of social work in particular, “we are more challenged to recruit”.

In the decade since Tusla was established, the number of child welfare referrals has more than doubled from 43,630 in 2014 to over 90,000 last year.

The number of referrals has steadily increased in recent years, with almost 83,000 referrals received in 2022 and just over 73,000 in 2021.

People can make a referral to Tusla if they believe a child is being neglected or abused. A welfare visit is generally carried out to determine if the child in question is in danger and if further action is needed, such as the child being taken into care.

Around 5,600 children are currently in Tusla’s care, as well as 330 children who are separated from their parents and seeking international protection.

The State agency has a wide remit covering child protection, foster care and family support services.

In an interview with The Journal, Duggan said Tusla needs a skilled workforce “across lots of disciplines”.

Tusla has undertaken a number of initiatives to recruit more staff including a graduate campaign, an overseas campaign, and the availability of bursaries for people who want to retrain to qualify for certain roles.

Despite these efforts, Duggan said Tusla continues “to be challenged to have the required levels of social workers” needed to respond to every case “the way we would want”.

Tusla Turns Ten with a special event in Dublin Castle -10 Kate Duggan, Tusla CEO; Riley Farrell (four) from Swords; and Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman at today's event at Dublin Castle Naoise Culhane Naoise Culhane

Duggan was speaking at an event in Dublin to mark the 10th anniversary of Tusla. She became the agency’s first-ever female CEO in September 2023, having previously served as interim CEO after Bernard Gloster was appointed CEO of the HSE.

Unvetted care workers

Unvetted care workers subcontracted by Tusla were given access to vulnerable children at risk of abuse, the Irish Examiner reported last month.

The agency is investigating claims made by a whistleblower who alleges that workers at a private firm to which Tusla outsources work were not all fully garda vetted.

When asked about this, Duggan said Tusla has “to be more vigilant than ever” in terms of ensuring workers from third party agencies have appropriate vetting.

“When we engage those services, we do require that all of their staff have the relevant qualifications and the relevant vetting.

“But there are times where it comes to our attention – through our governance and oversight or through some information that is provided to us – that an agency may not, in fact, have these safeguards in place.”

In such scenarios, Duggan said Tusla responds “to make sure there is no child in danger”. In some cases, a certain service may be terminated or allowed to continue once a risk assessment has been completed.

Birth Information and Tracing

Since the Birth Information and Tracing Act came into effect in October 2022, Tusla has received over 7,200 applications for birth and early life information. It has provided information for around 5,400 applicants.

However, some people are waiting up to a year to get access to their records.

The agency has also received over 5,700 applications for its tracing service through which people want to find relatives. Of these applications, around 1,600 have been allocated to a social worker.

Duggan today noted that Tusla has “sincerely apologised” for the long delays experienced by some people.

“When the legislation was introduced, we didn’t plan appropriately. We didn’t predict the volume and the scale in such a short timeframe for demand,” she said. 

Tusla has since hired additional staff and is hoping to get through the backlog of cases by June.

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