The numbers of unallocated cases, or children who do not have an allocated social worker remains of great concern to me. Tusla has identified significant numbers of unallocated cases in five of its 17 areas. In September 2019, these five areas accounted for 56% of all unallocated cases. I assure the Deputy that where a child has not been allocated a social worker, he or she is supported and monitored by the duty social work team until a social worker is allocated.
Tusla has advised my Department that special measures have been put in place to improve performance in the five areas. Staffing is the main reason unallocated cases are higher in these areas. There is an insufficient number of social workers on the teams carrying out the child welfare and protection tasks and this point has also been made by HIQA in its inspections of these areas. One of Tusla's specific initiatives is a bespoke recruitment campaign to fill the existing social work vacancies across these areas. Tusla has also put in place business support staff to free up social workers to focus on core child protection work.
With regard to rapid responses to urgent cases, Tusla operates an urgent system across all parts of the country. Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 permits An Garda Síochána to remove a child from a situation of acute risk. The child is then transferred to Tusla, which undertakes an assessment of the child's situation. Tusla may return the child home, if the environment is deemed safe, or apply for an emergency care order. Tusla also operates an out-of-hours social work service. This service provides access to an on-call social worker at regional or area level who can go the scene of an incident in specific cases of a serious nature.