Tusla - Ireland's Child & Family Agency

Tusla statement following ‘RTÉ Investigates - Chaos In Care | Claire Byrne Live’

Tusla is very concerned that following the publication of the report by Dr Shannon yesterday and an RTE Investigates programme broadcast last night that members of the public may be worried about the Agency’s practices and procedures.

The programme last night covered the details of specific cases of interactions with child protection services. Whilst Tusla does not comment on individual cases in order to protect the privacy of the children and families with whom we work, it is important to clarify that each case is different, has a particular context and individual set of circumstances that influence and shape decisions made by professionals in the best interests of a child or young person. These factors are by their nature extremely sensitive and therefore cannot be disclosed in public to safeguard the privacy of those concerned.

Some of the cases referred to relate to a service offered by the HSE before the establishment of Tusla and some relate to the year the agency was established. Additionally, some of the cases referred to are currently before the Courts and therefore we are not in a position to comment.

Tusla deals with 40,000 referrals each year from professionals and members of the public who are concerned about a child. In each of these instances we must make a balanced and informed decision about whether to remove a child from home or foster placement -these decisions are not free from risk and the risk must be managed and mitigated for.

Fred McBride, Chief Executive, Tusla said: “The report conducted by Dr Shannon, published yesterday provided useful information on the child protection system. In line with best practice and our commitment to ensuring the enhancement of services, I have asked the Chief Operations Officer to oversee a comprehensive analysis of the cases identified in Dr Shannon’s report, and to examine the basis for the professional decisions that were made in these cases. This analysis will address key themes identified in Dr Shannon’s report. For example, collaboration, the repeated use of Section 12 for the same child, and the use of hospitals. This analysis will be complete by the end of June.

There is a clear need to strengthen the child protection system in Ireland and Tusla is committed to this work. The creation of Tusla in 2014 represented a fundamental shift in the provision of family support, child protection, educational welfare and alternative care services. Whilst there is still much work to be done, since the Agency’s establishment, we have led the most comprehensive process of reform of the child protection and welfare services in Ireland.”

2017 marks the start of an important chapter for the Agency. In 2017 we are moving forward to transform our services in a range of ways, to enhance our structures, practice and make sure the way we engage with families is effective in ensuring that our services are appropriate, timely, and proportionate. This is being done through the programme of reform which has been welcomed by Dr Shannon. Already this year we have launched a new child protection and welfare strategy. We want to progress and work with children, families and communities so that our interventions maximise each family’s dignity, autonomy and self-determination. Undertaking a reform programme of this scale takes time and dedication to implement, in an effective way in practice.”

Major developments since the establishment of the agency include:

  • Tusla developed a service delivery framework which had intake and duty teams at its core. The framework was developed to screen and assess all referrals, including Section 12 placements.
  • The development of the new child protection and welfare strategy for 2017-2022.The Strategy is a central part of Tusla’s on-going programme of transformation and includes a new internationally recognised, national best practice approach, the Signs of Safety, which will assist staff in their engagement with children and families using one consistent approach.
  • Embedding Prevention, Partnership, and Family Support (PPFS)  into practice;
  • Enhancing Tusla’s strategic approach to quality assurance through the introduction of the Agency’s Quality Assurance Framework.
  • Developing the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategy and commencing implementation through the roll-out of the National Child Care Information System (NCCIS), the Children’s Information and Data Hub Project (O4C) and progress on data collection for Education Welfare Services (EWS).
  • The continuous reduction of unallocated cases.

Fred McBride continued: “These improvements are a testimony to the courage, determination and professionalism of Tusla staff around the country who have nothing but enthusiasm and commitment for the transformation journey we have embarked upon to improve services for children and families.”

Inter-agency approach

An inter-agency approach to child protection is of paramount importance so that children in need of support receive a timely, appropriate and proportionate response. Tusla - Child and Family Agency has publically called for stronger interagency cooperation among key agencies and continues to work with agencies, organisations, families, and communities so that the needs of each child are met and the best possible outcome is achieved.

An Gárda Síochána is a crucial partner in the area of child protection and both agencies have distinct functions, powers, responsibilities and methods of working. Tusla and An Gárda Síochána work closely in this area. As part of this collaborative work An Gárda Síochána have full access to Tusla Child Protection Notification System (CPNS). Tusla and an Gárda Síochána have developed a joint protocol on Section 12, which will clearly set out roles and responsibilities. Additionally, the two agencies have committed to the establishment of joint child protection teams.

In addition to ‘notifications’ both agencies regularly hold strategic liasion meetings and participate in child protection conferences where the details of care arrangements for children are discussed.

Commissioning of emergency foster care placements

Tusla commissions a range of providers to provide foster care placements. Tusla also commissions a provider to provide emergency foster care placements. These providers are subject to the same governance and stringent standards as any other provider and are assessed by foster care committees.

Emergency out-of-hours service

In 2015 Tusla set up an Emergency Out of Hours Service (EOHS) which has expanded over time. The purpose of the EOHS is to co-operate with and support An Gárda Síochána in the execution of their duties and responsibilities under section 12(3) of the Child Care Act, 1991 and referrals made under Sect 8.5 of the Refugee Act, 1996. Tusla is currently assessing the current demand for the out of hours social work service.

Currently, counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow and Cork North Lee and South Lee have an out-of-hours social work service in place. The Emergency Out of Hours Service is available for all other counties.

Services provided by the EOHS include:

  • A national call centre where social workers consult with, and provide advice to An Gárda Síochána;
  • Placements for children under Section 12(3) of the Child Care Act, 1991;
  • Placements for children referred under Section 8.5 of the Refugee Act, 1996;
  • Access by An Garda Síochána to a local On-call Social Worker.
  • National CPNS system available to an garda siochana.

Caseload management

The number of cases that a social worker manages at one time can vary depending on and is determined by the nature of the cases. The focus is on the complexity rather than the actual number of cases being carried by a social worker. Furthermore, there is a protective measure around more junior staff members to limit the number of cases that they manage. In addition, more senior members of staff supervise and assist junior staff members with case load management. All social work staff manage their case loads in line with the caseload management policy.

Section 12

A robust joint working protocol is being developed by Tusla and An Gárda Síochána specifically in relation to Section12. This protocol will build on the existing positive relationship, and will provide extensive guidance on a range of issues including: when to invoke Section 12, children at risk during office hours, delivering a child to the custody of Tusla during office hours, delivering a child to the custody of Tusla out of hours. This protocol is being developed in line with the new Children First guidance and the Children First Act.

Where a child is removed under Section 12 and Tusla decides to return the child to their family setting, there are a range of factors which contribute to this decision and the wellbeing and safety of the child is of paramount importance. Key factors in making this decision include the suitable family placements, and the wishes of the child or young person involved etc. In many cases removal of a child or young person under Section 12 can be related to their own behavioural issues rather than a child being at risk of abuse.

 

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