A matter came to my attention in the past number of days. On Monday, 27 April 2015, Tusla notified my Department that it had identified evidence of significant risks in how referrals were managed in the child welfare and protection service in the Laois-Offaly area. Tusla subsequently furnished a draft report on 28 April indicating that a significant number of referrals to its social work service have not been responded to in accordance with established procedures. Tusla indicated to me that this issue came to light at local level and was notified recently to Tusla senior management. On being notified of the issue, I met with the CEO of Tusla on Tuesday and I also discussed the matter with the chairperson of the board of management of Tusla. I have sought assurances and have been assured by Tusla that necessary measures to deal comprehensively with the situation have been or are being put in place.
My immediate priority is to ensure that no child is at risk of harm. I consider it appropriate that this matter is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, which is why I am using this opportunity to inform the select sub-committee. I have been provided with details of Tusla's action plan to deal with the issues that have been identified and will meet with Tusla again tomorrow to review progress in ensuring that all necessary actions are taken without delay. Tusla is being assisted in this process by two external independent child care experts in dealing urgently with the referrals that have come to light. Tusla is committed to working closely with An Garda Síochána and other partners in this area. I will consider in due course whether an independent investigation into this matter is warranted, including the circumstances that gave rise to the unassessed backlog of referrals and to include the lessons to be learned to ensure that such a situation is not repeated. My view of the seriousness of the issue is shared by Tusla. I have asked Tusla to expedite its examination of the various issues as a priority. Tusla is in the process of establishing the precise number of referrals that have not been appropriately responded to and will provide me with an update in this regard as a matter of priority.
I wish to ensure that any individual or organisation that is currently concerned about a referral they have made to Tusla in the Laois-Offaly area can be reassured. I have asked the CEO of Tusla to provide a contact telephone number so that any person who has a child protection concern about a child in the Laois-Offaly area can make contact immediately. I am assured by Mr. Gordon Jeyes that he has allocated additional social work staff to respond to any calls.
The issues involved primarily relate to the management of unallocated child welfare and protection referrals. Tusla provides data on a monthly and quarterly basis in respect of the management of referrals and unallocated cases. The matter has been the subject of much discussion, including in the Oireachtas in recent months. Given the importance of ensuring there is absolute clarity with regard to unallocated access and the management of any associated risk, I have in recent weeks asked Tusla to arrange for a national audit and to ensure complete verification and validation of all known cases awaiting allocation to a social worker. This was done prior to these issues becoming known to me as part of a standard letter I sent to it a couple of months back. Tusla is due to furnish me with a report in this regard shortly. While I know the meeting is technically over, I am happy to take questions insofar as I can answer them but we have limited information.