I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter and the Minister for being here to respond to the debate. It is fair to say the title that has been given to the matter raised is an abbreviated version of the question that was asked. It was prompted by the publication last week by HIQA of the overview report of statutory foster care services 2019-2020. On its publication last week, the report got some coverage. It was very critical in places of the services that are provided in parts of the country, in particular in the community healthcare organisation, CHO, that covers my home area of Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary, in terms of access to social workers for children in foster care and families providing foster care in the region.
Some of the statistics were very stark. The initial part of the report from 2019 described how more than one fifth of children in care in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary were not allocated social workers for long-term charge of their case. The number of children in 2019 was 72, which is an incredibly high figure, behind which is hidden 72 young lives that are placed in the charge of the State, in this case under the supervision of Tusla and social workers employed by it. The report went on to describe the provision of services in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary as "chaotic", with frequent changes in allocated social workers to individual cases.
The figures for 2020 were better, in that the number of children without an allocated social worker for their long-term care in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary was reduced to 30, but that still hides the fact we are talking about 30 young lives that need to be protected. In many circumstances, most of the children who find themselves in foster care are in the most vulnerable category of children you could possibly deal with, and 30 is still an unacceptably high figure.
What was possibly even more disturbing about the report is that while one in five children in 2019 in the Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary area did not have an allocated long-term social worker, the figures for south Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare were 19%, in the mid-west, 18% and for the midlands, 17%. It is fair to say the report was critical of Tusla. The report indicated that in the change between 2019 and 2020, the figures were moving in a downward direction but were still alarmingly high. I know there are ongoing challenges for Tusla in workforce recruitment and retention, in this case of social workers to deal with children in foster care.
I welcome the Minister's views and direction as to ensuring that figure of 30 can be reduced as soon as possible to zero for Carlow, Kilkenny, and south Tipperary, as well as the other regions of the country.