I welcome this opportunity to update the committee. I am well aware that it is a busy time of year but it is a good time of year to tell the committee about the progress of this year. We are in the midst of completing our business plan for 2016 and, therefore, the views of members are welcome. I can summarise it in five words - much done, more to do.
We take this opportunity to talk about the business plan for 2015 in the first instance. We published our corporate plan and the 2015 business plan was the first detailed statement covering the outputs and objectives of that plan. The first part of this report covers our progress in the first three quarters.
The child protection notification system is now available to external services that require this information, specifically An Garda Síochána, the Tusla out-of-hours emergency service, GP services and hospital accident and emergency departments. It is a big step forward. The national out-of-hours service is now operational, providing emergency advice and support to the Garda regarding the operation of protecting children under section 12.
We have come a long way regarding making information available. Integrated performance reports are published quarterly on the website, covering the full range of information in terms of service delivery as well as finance, HR and quality and risk.
We have further refined our need-to-know system working in partnership with colleagues in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. We have an incident management policy, which is due to be finalised, and a revised complaints and feedback policy has been approved and the final discussions with the trade unions have satisfactorily concluded.
As members will be aware, the issue of consistency has been a major feature and a national policy catalogue has been developed and it is on the Tusla web for all staff. Each of the 17 areas has a manager who leads on participation, partnership and family support and our common assessment framer, Meitheal, is being rolled out around the country. There has been detailed discussions with staff about a quality assurance framework. The first work this year was on unallocated cases. As the committee will hear, we are developing a detailed programme of quality reviews as well as performance audits for 2016.
We have pulled together all the investment of the agency in research. A strategy has been approved by the board and an operating model for the research team and an oversight committee with external involvement has been established.
A resourcing framework for supporting parents has been agreed, co-ordinators are in place and it was launched successfully earlier this week. The assessment consultation and therapy service is extremely important because it is the first one that follows the child, trying to ensure he or she does not finish in any type of secure establishment. If the child does, the service stays with him or her until he or she returns to the community. We are expanding our therapeutic services and the first expansion is the appointment of staff in the specialised field of supporting young people who exhibit sexually abusive behaviour. An alternative care strategy is being refined. There have been initial discussions and it will be a major undertaking in 2016. There has been substantial work to move from handing out grants to do good work to commissioning, in line with the Government, the Dáil and the agency's priorities. There is now full national oversight of all services relating to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
There has been an increase in that investment, which will continue.
Family resource centres are a key part of many communities and fully participate in our service delivery framework. An integrated management structure in education has been designed and the process to have three national lead managers covering the full range of our education activity is currently in process. There has been a review of the school completion programme following the ESRI report. The strength of local initiatives is celebrated but we must complement that with good governance. There have been detailed and excellent conversations with school completion chairpersons and co-ordinators in recent weeks. Early years inspection now runs a full national system. Gaps are being covered and the national structure is fully in place. It will benefit from further investment in 2016.
The final output relates to whether Tusla is a credible and fit-for-purpose organisation. We have much more information. An estates strategy and property audit have been completed and we have a programme of capital works. A risk register has been developed at all levels of the organisation. There has been initial discussion at the board and it will continue to review it. There has been detailed work and discussion on financial controls, and in particular on the governance arrangements with the wide range of externally funded agencies. As budgets improve we are beginning to put the emphasis back on training and to ensure that managers have the support they need regarding performance management, legal framework and leadership. Recruitment has been identified as a major issue. As a consequence, and to produce competition with the national recruitment service, we established Tusla Recruit so we can speed up these processes. A head of legal services has been appointed and there have been productive and constructive discussions with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to expand Tusla legal services further.
As matters stood at the end of the third quarter this year, there are still concerns about the national child care information system. It is fully operational and there is much learning from front-line practice with the developer. We wish to speed up the roll-out and discussions on that matter continue between Fred McBride and ICT control in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There is ongoing work involving the mother and baby homes inquiry in the Department, the Adoption Authority and ourselves to ensure there is clear co-operation about adoption records and improving our information tracing systems. Discussions with the HSE continue regarding the best way for Tusla to fulfil its responsibilities for psychological welfare services for families.
Additional external support and a strategic partner for ICT are currently being procured, but there are still issues regarding our essential dependency on HSE arrangements. This is not just a matter of investment. Clearly, we share the network for servers so issues of network hosting and development of our applications are important. That remains under-funded and ill-defined.
I will continue very quickly so members can deal with their issues of concern. On the back of an improved financial settlement for 2016 which addresses some of the inherited legacy deficits, a business plan under the Minister's direction in the performance statement is in preparation. This will be the second year in our corporate plan. Key issues will be addressed and it will be submitted later this month. The first issue, which is crucial and of great significance culturally, is the commencement and implementation of the revised Children First guidelines. A national implementation team has been established under Cormac Quinlan, the director of policy and strategy, to ensure readiness for mandated reporting systems and responses, information and guidance for others carrying out this work, training and e-learning, and the full range of information and advice.
Second is a legislative response to the work in after-care, particularly our responsibility for those young people in education and training. There is also advice and advocacy. Advocacy is crucial to ensure these young adults are getting the health, housing, training and support required. The first steps on a clear national policy are there and we are prepared to ensure that the right of every young person to an after-care plan is in place.
In addition, we are getting ready for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. We have three working groups making sure there is full public awareness, the assessment of compelling reasons and the establishment of the adoption information register.
There is also a detailed plan to examine the resource deficits, the so-called unallocated cases, and to ensure the time is significantly reduced from first referral and monitoring to the allocation of a social worker for assessment and support. We will progress the national incident management system and that will be available for scrutiny. The quality assurance directorate has launched "Tell Us" at Tusla, the national management system, and innovative methodologies for service users. We must do more about responding to what our complaints are telling us in policy terms and feedback from our customers.
We must examine standardising policy. The child protection and welfare handbook was distributed throughout the country. I still see well-thumbed copies. That was a success five years ago, but it is time for it to be reviewed and updated. We must build on the work supported by Atlantic Philanthropies in partnership and family support, to ensure we are working with parents in support of their children and that the early intervention of Meitheal is used as well as the audit tool for parents. Research is continuing to make sure it is in line with our priorities. A quality assurance framework will examine historical allegations, the child protection notification system and our child protection and welfare and children in care services to assess the impact they have. It will not just look at the data.
We must do further work at the children and young people services committees. We must ensure our support for children in care is genuinely multi-disciplinary and multi-agency. We must work with the Department of Education and Skills in the tracking of school performance and with the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure there is immunisation and health and dental checks. The alternative care strategy must pick up pace. We will produce a children in care to adoption handbook. We will establish a commissioning support unit and a clear commissioning cycle. The priorities established for domestic, sexual and gender based violence include implementation of governance, a standard reporting framework and our contribution to the multi-departmental work as set out in the Istanbul Convention.
We must follow through on our discussions and conversations to build on the community strengths of the school completion programme and ensure there is an integrated approach to educational welfare, home school liaison and school completion. We must ensure that education as a component of every child's right to achieve their potential is fully developed in the service delivery framework. The early years inspectorate will be developed with further investment, a central registration office will be established when the regulation comes in at the end of the first quarter and an ICT system will be developed to ensure our inspections are intelligence driven. Importantly, we have just concluded a review of section 14, that is, the work with parents who choose to educate their children elsewhere, including at home in many instances or in non-recognised schools. The participation and achievement in education of children in care will involve specific initiatives. It is of crucial importance. Children will often do well when in care in terms of their education, but there are gaps where they fall behind.
Finally, there are specific things we must do to strengthen ourselves as fit-for-purpose. Establishing Tusla legal services will mean we have some contestability with our private sector legal providers and better work between social work and lawyers so we are supporting judges and the courts system efficiently and effectively. We must strengthen our corporate infrastructure to ensure we are effective, efficient and responsive.
In detailed discussions about the structure which involved face-to-face meetings with over 25% of staff, it was clear that significant concerns remain regarding how we support the front line in terms of ICT and HR. As referred to already, discussions continue. There will be further meetings this month with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the HSE regarding psychology; estate strategy, particularly the major investment in the special care estate that is planned for next year; and our value for taxpayer money strategy. Work has started and will continue to ensure that risk management policy is an active process, not just a box-filling exercise. We have made substantial progress on resource allocation because, having been disaggregated from the health service, the amount of money invested in children's services could vary hugely across the country. Major reforms are also being made in HR with regard to training needs and work with the national joint council.
When the Child and Family Agency was established, it was important for the governance of services for children because there was now to be no hiding place. I am confident that in challenging circumstances a strong beginning has been made and there has been good progress. There is a clear agenda for the next phase of reform. I will finish as I began: much done, a lot more still to do.