Child Protection and Welfare Services at Crisis Point: 10% increase to Tusla funding urgently needed in Budget 2024
Today (12.09.2023) the Children’s Rights Alliance is urgently calling for a substantial investment in child protection, welfare and family support services in Budget 2024.
The Children’s Rights Alliance End Child Poverty Week campaign is in Cork today to put a spotlight on the lack of adequate investment in child protection and welfare services. The Alliance will be joined by rrepresentatives from University College Cork, Child and Family Agency (Tusla), Focus Ireland, Barnardos and the Child Law Project.
Speaking in advance of the Cork event, Tanya Ward, Children’s Rights Alliance Chief Executive said that:
“HIQA, the Child Law Project and the letter from Judge Simms issued upon his retirement are telling us our services are at breaking point. We are witnessing a massive demand surge in child protection, welfare and family support services as a result of socio-economic factors like poverty, homelessness, youth crime, global movement, as well as the impact of the pandemic, and the unmet need in relation to mental health, addiction, disability and psychological support services.
Predictably, children are ending up at the door of Tusla and other critical services having experienced abuse, neglect and exploitation. Tusla’s Annual Report (2022) documents a 13 per cent increase in the number of referrals for its child protection and welfare services (compared to 2021). A steady rise in referrals in recent years has resulted in an increase of a staggering 46 per cent since 2019. Critically, we have not seen Tusla’s resources or funding proportionally increased to meet that increase in demand.”
“Significant numbers of children with disabilities, mental health or addiction issues who cannot get therapies or accommodation, are now arriving in child protection services desperately seeking support. Alongside this, there are inadequate numbers of special care places and staffing shortages also contributing to the serious challenges in meeting demand,” continued Tanya Ward. “The country really runs the risk of undermining all the good work that was done to establish a new Child and Family Agency (Tusla) if it doesn’t use Budget 2024 to invest in these services. We had a broken child protection system before. We can’t go back there.”
“It is also troubling that, despite the fact foster care provides the best outcomes for children who cannot be raised by their first families, the Government has failed to increase the foster care payment since 2009. Foster carers do not feel supported or valued and, as a result, we are rapidly losing them, with 1,500 reported to have ceased fostering since 2017. The short supply of foster carers or appropriate Residential Services, has resulted in Tusla having to use expensive and sometimes unregulated emergency care placements.”
Speaking in advance of this timely discussion, former Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Professor Conor O’Mahony said:
“Child poverty has been a matter of grave concern in Ireland for some years, and the scale of the problem has been growing steadily. Homelessness is one of the most obvious forms of poverty, but far from the only one; child poverty manifests itself in a variety of different ways and has long-term negative impacts on all aspects of child wellbeing and development. Conversely, measures that alleviate child poverty have significant long-term benefits both to the children affected and to society at large. In a time of relative economic plenty, there would be no better investment in our collective future than a sustained focus on ending child poverty in Ireland.”
In her keynote address, Dr Sharon Lambert from the School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork, said:
“Poverty is a toxic stressor, which can be experienced as trauma. Poverty in childhood is a risk factor that can potentially impact on a child’s physical, emotional and social wellbeing. If we consider poverty as trauma, then we need to invest in services, policies and practices with this trauma in mind, to limit its impact on a child’s future.”
The Alliance is calling for Budget 2024 to tackle a deepening crisis in the child protection system. This crisis comes from a persistent shortage of social workers, particularly insufficient numbers of experienced social workers; the lack of foster placements, which is a result of chronic under-investment and inadequate support of foster carers, resulting in a haemorrhaging of these vital care-givers; a shortage of suitable residential placements, particularly for children with complex needs; inappropriate use of emergency placements for extended periods of time; chronically deficient and inadequate numbers of Special Care places, and failure to provide timely therapeutic and support services.
The Children’s Rights Alliance is calling for a Children’s Budget to make crucial investments to address these issues in a real and impactful way. Specific measures could include targeting investment to:
- Increase Tusla’s overall funding by a minimum of 10% in order to ensure it can maintain the same levels of operation.
- Provide Tusla with additional resources to increase investment in Community and Voluntary Sector funded organisations to build their capacity to retain staff and deliver frontline services to children and families.
- Ringfence an increase of 1 per cent of Tusla’s budget for Family Support Services. This funding should be utilised to increase the capacity of services to ensure more children and their families can access support.
- Support foster carers by increasing the foster carer payment to reflect the rise in inflation since 2009 and provide an inclusive package of supports for these carers to ensure we can retain and increase the number of foster care placements available for children and young people.
“Recent reports have lifted the lid on a seismic gap between current funding, resources and staff, and the demand surge for support. Children’s services the length and breadth of the country are crying out for support to meet this demand, to manage soaring waiting lists and to desperately reach children most in need of urgent or specialised support. Without significant investment in these services, it is children who will be the ones picking up the pieces of a broken system,” concluded Tanya Ward.
Notes to Editors:
- Media are invited to attend the event in person in Nano Nagle Place, Douglas St, Cork NanoNagle Tuesday 12 September, 12.00pm-2.00pm. For online viewing, click here.
- The event is chaired by Professor Conor O’Mahony, Faculty of Law, University College Cork and will include a keynote address by Dr Sharon Lambert, School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork.
- Tanya Ward and Dr Sharon Lambert are available for media interviews; other speakers available upon request.
- The Children’s Rights Alliance Pre Budget Submission, published in June 2023, is available here.
- The Children’s Rights Alliance Child Poverty Monitor 2023 is available here. (p.140 onwards)
- According to a report in the Irish Examiner, a total of 1,500 Tusla foster carers have ceased fostering since 2017.
- End Child Poverty Week is supported by Community Foundation for Ireland, The Fidelis Foundation and the Katharine Howard Foundation. The week-long series of events focuses on five thematic areas of child poverty, the root causes and the best practice solutions needed to break the cycle of poverty for children and young people. Details of the other events are available here.
About the Children’s Rights Alliance:
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 145 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL #EndChildPovertyWeek #ChildrensBudget24