Caring for adolescents, many of whom have traumatic histories, complex behaviour and an ambivalence about their placement is a challenge. When this care takes place in a residential setting it requires high levels of experienced staff to support these children. As is the case in other jurisdictions, maintaining high standards in residential care is an ongoing challenge. At the end of April, as the Deputy indicated, there were 376 children in residential care, and 238 of these children are cared for in privately managed centres commissioned by Tusla. To put that in context, 6% of children in care are in residential care.
It is concerning that in some residential centres there is a high turnover of staff. There is also a dependency on agency staff. Staff have sustained injuries in the course of their work. That inevitably has an impact on stability in the centres, which has an impact on children, as well as an impact on staff.
One action that Tusla is working on with my Department is increasing the levels of assessment, therapeutic input, counselling and support to the centres. Tusla assessment, consultation and therapy service teams, known as ACTS, who provide the services, have developed significant expertise in terms of working with troubled young people. The process of helping these young people is slow and the support offered to them has varying results. That is the nature of this type of work. In practical terms, the ACTS team can assist in the development of a behaviour management and emotional support plan as part of the overall care plan for the young person on discharge from special care. That type of support can assist staff in residential centres to more appropriately manage and respond to challenging behaviour by traumatised young people. The staff that work with these children are carrying out the most difficult of tasks. Our efforts to improve standards is about making their workplace and their work life better, as well as supporting the children with the best service possible.