Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 20 Jun 2017

Vol. 252 No. 6

Commencement Matters

Schools Building Projects

I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to the House and indeed congratulate him on his re-appointment. I thank him for taking the time to address this matter, which is of grave concern to the students, parents, teachers and the wider community of Lusk. The population of Lusk was approximately 500 to 700 when I first started in practice back in 1983. It was 7,000 in 2011, it is now 10,000 according to the last census of 2016, and it is due to grow further, to 12,500, in the coming years.

There are, as the Minister knows, active building sites all around Lusk. Some of them involve the provision of new school and educational facilities and they are very welcome. We have very good bus and rail links and we are very near Dublin city, Dublin Airport and Swords. Lusk is an attractive place in which to live and start a home and a young family. The demand, therefore, for all school facilities in Lusk will continue to grow. Rush and Lusk Educate Together national school currently has 420 pupils. Lusk national school has 850 pupils on its books and is growing. The Round Towers GAA club has 600 members. The soccer club, with 19 teams, has 325 playing members and rising. We also have our athletics club, judo club, and many other clubs.

As a Fine Gael Senator and local Lusk GP I am very proud to see three cranes on the skyline of Lusk building new primary schools and a new all-purpose PE hall, supported and implemented efficiently by the Minister's Department. It surprises me and many others, therefore, that the same project group cannot seem to implement in a timely manner the building of the promised new facilities for Lusk Community College. This involves a new build extension to cater for: an additional 650 pupils; a special needs unit; a physical education unit; a hall with a fitness suite and changing facilities; and ancillary accommodation, including a school library.

There have been multiple promises of start dates, tenders, etc. I was delighted, as a Minister, when construction of phase 1 commenced in 2011 and was completed on time in 2013, with phase 2 due to be completed in 2014. Everybody is surprised to learn that planning was not obtained until 2016. We were given to understand that tenders would be awarded and construction would commence this summer but clearly that is not now going to happen because the tenders are not due in until July this year.

The community is frustrated and annoyed. People are losing faith. I know from the meeting last Tuesday night, which was well attended, that several parents of children currently attending the school are considering sending younger children elsewhere because of the overcrowding, with children required to eat lunch in their classrooms and the hall, which should be used for other functions, now being used for teaching. The parents cannot understand why this project is not proceeding.

I understand that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has been in communication with my office regarding a meeting I requested with him and his officials on behalf of the parents' group at Lusk Community College. I would like the Minister to confirm today that he will meet with the parents' group from Lusk Community College so that they can explain their case directly to him and his officials.

Naturally, everybody is anxious to move this project forward and parents do not want any more delays. The Minister will understand that many children commenced their education in this school in the belief that they would be able to complete their education there but because the school will not now be completed until, at the earliest, 2019 this may not be the case for many children. There is a very strong community and committee involved, including Mr. Gabriel Kelly, Ms Caroline O'Malley, Mr. Josephine Lara, Mr. Michael Lenihan, Mr. Paul McNally and Ms Tricia Lynch.

I would like to read into the record an email I received from a parent, Mr. Liam Cassidy, in Lusk:

Following a meeting with local political representatives on Tuesday the 13th, I am writing to you to express my personal disappointment regarding the further delays in the completion of Lusk Community College. We have now been given a best case completion date of the end of 2019. To say that this is appalling is an understatement. In its current state, the school is not fit for purpose and is already overcrowded, without even having the fully secondary cycle of children in attendance yet. Imagine there is no PE hall, no library, no designated lunch areas. Students are being facilitated in portacabins as there are not enough classrooms. That might be okay when you were six or seven in primary school but not for growing teenage girls and boys. Wouldn't fancy it, would you?

As the Leas-Chathaoirleach is indicating that my time has expired, I will not read the remainder of the email.

The area about which the Senator is speaking is beautiful countryside.

I ask the Minister to do everything he can to remedy this situation given the impact it is having on the community. This school was once a state-of-the-art facility with a great reputation but people are now starting to walk away from it. This is the last thing we need when North County Dublin is bursting at the seams in terms of the number of children applying for school places from areas such as Rush, Lusk, Skerries, Balbriggan and Swords. As a resident of Lusk, I know we do not want to have to send our secondary school children outside of their village, away from their friends and community, to complete their secondary school education. This is having a detrimental effect on the community, families and local clubs which are critical to any community.

I thank Senator Reilly for raising this matter, which is about the second phase of accommodation for Lusk. As stated by Senator Reilly, the first phase was completed some years ago. This project will provide permanent accommodation to cater for the full projected enrolment of 1,000 pupils, including a special needs unit, a sports hall with a fitness suite and changing facilities and ancillary accommodation, and a school library.

The project is included in the six-year programme announced by my predecessor on 17 November 2015 to go to tender, with construction scheduled to commence in 2018. Notwithstanding that scheduled construction date, my Department approved the project to proceed to tender stage in October 2016, with the intention of completing the much-needed phase 2 accommodation as early as possible. The pre-qualification of contractors for this project had first been conducted by the design team in April 2015. Owing to the passage of time since then, the design team was concerned about the possibility of legal challenges at tender stage and sought advice from the Office of Government Procurement on the matter.

The advice was that it would be prudent to run the pre-qualification process again. My Department concurred with this advice and requested the design team to conduct a second pre-qualification process.

The Senator is correct in pointing out that I informed the Dáil on 18 January that "Subject to no issues arising, it is anticipated that construction will commence in the summer of 2017 and the project is scheduled to take approximately 18 months to complete." That was, however, based on the advice of my officials at the time and was, in turn, based on the information available on that date. Issues did subsequently arise in the pre-qualification process but these have now been resolved. I am pleased to inform the Senator that the pre-qualification process was concluded earlier this month and invitations to tender issued to six qualified contractors on 9 June 2017. Subject to no further issues arising, it is anticipated that construction will commence in late 2017 and the project is, as previously advised, expected to take approximately 18 months to complete.

I can fully understand the frustration of parents but I am aware, from experience, that if prudent steps are not taken to ensure the supply chain is properly tested before one commits, then projects can go off the rails. The prudence of the design team in taking these steps has prevented this project from being challenged further down the road. A prudent approach was taken and I understand the frustration people experience when they see the potential opening date being pushed back as a result of this approach. However, we must work on the best legal advice available to us. If the Office of Government Procurement is indicating that this is the approach to take, then it is the correct approach.

I am open, of course, to meeting the Senator. Other public representatives, including Deputy Farrell, have contacted me about the possibility of meeting. If Deputies and Senators want such a meeting, I am happy to agree to that. The project still must go through the process and tenders are now being invited. I will not be influencing the selection of tenders or any of that. It must be done in a wholly professional way by the Department. I am content that although there was an interruption, which was unfortunate for the progression of the project from when we first sought to move it faster, I believe this difficulty has been overcome and that the project is back on track from our point of view.

It is my understanding that the website of the Department of Education and Skills originally said the project was to finish - or at least commence - in 2014. I stand open to correction on that. It is important that the Minister meets the parents of the children in the school. It is more important than meeting all of us public representatives, although we would all be very keen to be there also. There were a number of public representatives at the meeting last Tuesday night. We all undertook to write to the Minister to again seek a meeting. I appreciate his response to this request and the positive way in which he has stated it. It is critical that there are no further delays. Everybody accepts that we are where we are. People would like an explanation as to why we are where we are and I believe they do not feel they have had that explanation yet.

I shall conclude by reading the two last paragraphs of the letter I read out earlier:

As a parent of four young children, two already in primary cycle, I now have the worry of whether the school will be able to take my children in when their time comes or will I have to send them to a different school outside of our community. It would be a crying shame if I had to do that.

Our secondary school must be finished as soon as possible. It is already nearly three years late being competed. I understand why projects like this might run to some delay but at this stage there are no words for a delay of this length.

The end of 2019 is just not good enough but we understand that we are where we are. I again appeal to the Minister to ensure that there will be no further delays. The parents would appreciate a face-to-face meeting with the Minister to allay their fears that there will not be further delays and that further damage to the school's reputation will not occur. There is an excellent ethos in the school. It has excellent teachers - many of whom I met the other night - who are really committed to the school and excited by the possibility of this new growing community that has sprung out of a very ancient village that has been in existence since the fifth century.

I will check the history of this. I can only go back to November 2015 when this was announced as being on a building programme. The Department has moved that ahead of the schedule that was then set out.

No Senator knows better than Senator Reilly the difficulties we went through between 2010 and 2014, which was the planning date initially hoped for. No doubt one of the reasons for the delay had to do with the economic crisis that prevailed in those times when schedules were disrupted. I will check that history. It is on a clear schedule. Not only does the Department treat it as a priority, but by its action in bringing it forward ahead of its original schedule, it shows an appreciation of the difficulties for the school and for parents.

Of course I am happy to meet and reassure parents but I am also sure the Department will facilitate the school in temporary accommodation should that be necessary given the pressure on the school in the short term. I will do my very best to keep this on track but I do not directly control difficulties with tenders and construction. They arise from sources I cannot always identify in advance. I thank the Senator for raising the issue.

Home Care Packages Provision

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House today. I want to raise the need for increased supports for home care packages and home help supports in County Roscommon, which has one of the oldest populations in the country and one of the most rural. We need to target areas with the greatest need and ensure adequate home care services are being provided to individuals who need them. I am concerned. I have received several calls from families regarding the provision of adequate home care support for their relatives. I can point to several specific cases where, despite strong recommendations from health care professionals outlining a clear need for increased care at home, this has not been provided. It is not good enough that the specific needs of individuals in respect of personal care, domestic tasks and other daily activities are not being met. It is also particularly difficult to get weekend cover. I have raised these issues numerous times with the Health Service Executive, HSE.

I have also received calls from home helps and relatives about the length of visits. Some have told me that visits have been reduced from 45 to 30 minutes. It is impractical for many to help an individual get up, get dressed, have breakfast and be prepared for the day in 30 minutes. It is extremely important that we support people to remain in their homes, but that requires proper home care packages and an adequate number of home help hours.

Our focus needs to be on the individual receiving the care. It is a question of delivering good quality care for the client, of the client’s welfare and of supporting families and family carers to look after their loved ones at home. Home care services are critical to allowing people stay in their own homes and communities for the longest time possible and to preventing early admission to long-term residential care.

I also want to point out concerns and difficulties that have been raised with me about not-for-profit home care providers. If someone is receiving home help from a non-profit provider funded by the HSE, it is not possible to get an additional number of hours privately from the same provider.

The importance of the client-carer relationship cannot be overestimated. These people are some of the most vulnerable within our society. A new person coming into a home for the provision of home help or care can be a cause of unease and anxiety for many people. When that relationship is built up, the value of it should not be overestimated. It should be recognised and there should be consistency in terms of care provision. The arrangement with the non-profit organisations is a business one, with payment being made following the provision of home help hours. There is a need to review the funding model with regard to the non-profit sector in order to allow for more flexibility in terms of care provision.

I understand that work is under way on the consultation period for the development of a statutory home care scheme which would very much be focused and tailored towards meeting the needs of the individual.

I have plenty of experience in this sector, having worked as an occupational therapist and having seen the value of home care being provided. I have also seen the challenges when not enough home care is provided. That is why I am raising it today. I have genuine, serious concerns about the adequacy of home care provision within County Roscommon.

I thank Senator Hopkins for raising this very important issue. I know that she has a long-held interest in the issue of services for home help and home care packages.

The overarching policy of the Government is to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Home care is an increasingly important part of the supports that we offer to older people, and will continue to increase in importance in the future. The HSE has operational responsibility for planning, managing and delivering home and other community-based services for older people. Service is provided on the basis of assessed health care need and there is currently no means testing.

The overall funding for services for older people in 2017 is €765 million. This included approximately €373 million for the direct provision of home care and the HSE's national service plan provides for a target of 10.7 million home help hours, 16,750 home care packages and 190 intensive home care packages for clients with very complex needs.

All applicants for home care in CHO 2, which includes Roscommon, Galway and Mayo, are assessed by a home care forum with clinical and social care professional representation. Home care is allocated to those determined to be of the highest priority, having regard to the available budget. With a budget of €39.5 million, the HSE is providing a significant level of services for the area, and the projected monthly target is 1,254 people to receive a home care package, and that approximately 1.3 million home help hours will be provided by the end of the year. By the end of April the HSE was providing 1,600 packages and 436,000 home help hours. I am pleased to say that all new applicants on the waiting list across CHO 2 as of 31 March 2017 have 2.25 hours of home care per week approved for implementation. The HSE has acknowledged that there are pockets - I accept Senator Hopkins's point - including the Monksland area of Roscommon, where a shortage of carers has impacted the implementation of approved care. The Senator will be aware that arrangements for home care have developed over the years with a significant local focus, and there is considerable variation in accessing services in different parts of the country. It is also accepted that there is a considerable demand for home support services over and above the existing service levels.

The Department of Health is engaged in a detailed process to determine what type of home care scheme is best for Ireland. This process will consider the future design of both the funding and regulation systems for these crucial services. An important step in this process is public consultation, which I will be launching shortly. The purpose of the consultation is to allow all those who have views on this topic to have their say, including older people themselves, their families, and health care workers. The Department wants to find out what people think about current home care services and would also like to hear the public's view on what the future scheme should look like. I strongly urge all Senators, especially those in the Seanad with an interest in home care services, to make a submission to the consultation.

I thank the Minister of State for his update on services within the community health care organisation, CHO, area 2, which covers Roscommon, Galway and Mayo. However, I am still concerned about situations where health care professionals made recommendations on assessed need for personal care, domestic tasks and activities of daily life. I can provide specific examples to the Minister of State in that regard. The Government has continued to emphasise the importance of home care support to ensure people with disabilities and older people who need a little bit of extra support can live in their own homes and communities for the longest time possible. The Minister of State outlined that access to services varies across the country. I am concerned about that because no matter where one lives, one's financial situation, age or level of disability one should receive the same service based on an assessment of need. I accept that the consultation process on the development of a statutory home care scheme is important in terms of trying to deal with those variations.

I have significant concerns about a number of cases where individuals have contacted me and I will provide details in regard to those cases to the Minister. I have been in contact with the HSE on numerous occasions about them.

I thank Senator Hopkins. I will respond to the points she raised. First, I will bring to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Harris, the point about non-profit providers to see if there is anything we can do about the hours. I accept the point the Senator made about the importance of the client and the care relationship. There must be stability and flow in such a relationship. That is my experience as well, particularly in the disability sector. If one chops and changes hours and carers that leads to instability, especially for older people and those with disabilities. That is a very important point.

I urge people to get involved in the consultation process which is currently taking place. Senator Hopkins also made points about other important issues such as the assessed need of people. We need to ensure that if people are assessed and certain hours are recommended, they get them. I am aware of problems with staffing in certain parts of the country but that is a management and human resources issue which we will have to deal with as well. If there is anything we can do in terms of supporting those who are affected in the cases to which the Senator referred then it will be done. If there are examples of significant stress experienced by families, especially involving senior citizens, we will do our best to see if we can plug the gaps. I agree that it is not acceptable for either an individual in need of care or a carer for a person to be allocated 30 minutes or one hour and 40 minutes. I will take the points that have been made and bring them to the attention of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.

Motorised Transport Grant Closure

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, on his reappointment. The Minister of State might feel I am back to haunt him again.

I suppose that is the case, but I want to raise an issue I have raised in a Commencement debate twice previously. It relates to the motorised transport grant, which was removed in 2013 and has not been replaced. I raised the matter with the Minister of State in September 2016 and February 2017. It is now June 2017. Each time I raised it, the Minister of State gave an undertaking that legislation on a new motorised transport grant was imminent.

I will highlight one particular case as an example of a number of cases I am dealing with, as I am sure are other Senators and Deputies. I recall the issue being raised in the Dáil on numerous occasions in recent months also. It is the case of a wife looking after her husband 24 hours a day who is saving the State hundreds of thousands of euro, first in the sense that they did not make a claim against the hospital where the initial treatment was given, and, second, by caring for him in the family home. Effectively, they have had to beg, steal and borrow, in the best sense, to continue to do that. They got the motorised transport grant to buy a second-hand car on two or three occasions - this happened in 1995 - with a few thousand euro and they got the rest from credit unions. That is what I am talking about - a woman taking her husband to hospital appointments and giving him a break out of the house to provide stimulation because he will only allow her to look after him. It is a human case, and I am conscious of that. I will not delay the House on the matter but the last time I raised it was in February and the Minister of State said at that time that legislation was imminent. I am not holding my breath, but I implore the Minister of State to advance this in whatever way he can. We talk about value for money but this family is saving money for the State.

I thank Senator John O'Mahony for raising this very important issue. I accept he has been campaigning on it and asking me about it for a long time. I share his frustration about this issue. It is important to outline again the current position in this matter. There are blockages that we are trying to deal with but as the Senator will be aware already, the Government decided to close both the motorised transport grant and the mobility allowance schemes in February 2013. This decision arose as a result of the reports of the Ombudsman regarding the legal status of both schemes. I believe it is important to clarify that there are no plans to restore either of these schemes as they previously operated. However, the Government is aware of the continuing needs of people with a disability who rely on individual payments which support choice and independence.

In that regard, it is important to know that monthly payments of up to €208.50 have continued to be made by the Health Service Executive to 4,700 people who were in receipt of the mobility allowance. The Government then decided that the detailed preparatory work required for a new transport support scheme and associated statutory provisions should be progressed by the Department of Health. The Senator will be aware that A Programme for a Partnership Government acknowledges the ongoing drafting of primary legislation for a new transport support scheme. The Government's legislative programme for 2017 includes the Health (Transport Support) Bill. Both the Minister, Deputy Harris, and I are committed to its progression as soon as possible. I can confirm that work on the policy proposals is at an advanced stage and I anticipate that this will be brought to the Government shortly.

The proposals will seek to ensure that there is a firm statutory basis for the scheme's operation, that there is transparency and equity in the eligibility criteria attaching to the scheme, that resources are targeted at those with the greatest needs and that the scheme is capable of being costed and affordable when introduced on an ongoing basis. The Department is seeking a solution which best meets the aim of supporting people with severe disabilities who require additional income to contribute towards the cost of their mobility needs while keeping within the available budget and satisfying all legal and equality concerns. The challenge for us all is to develop a new scheme on a statutory basis within a limited budget which is targeted at those with the greatest need. I assure the Senator that the matter will be brought to the Government for consideration and a decision as soon as possible. I look forward to a valuable and constructive debate when the Bill comes before the House in due course.

I accept what the Minister of State says but I know him long enough to see that there is some obstacle here which is not him. I have seen in the Dáil over the years how he has highlighted from the Opposition benches the need for people to be treated equally. He said it will not be the old scheme, but when it comes in it must be equal. The response to the example I gave him might be "Well, use public transport", but there is no public transport where these people live. As such, this needs to be looked at carefully. Whatever or whoever is the obstacle, I would love to bring the people whose example I have highlighted to the Minister of State or whoever is stopping him from getting this, because it is not about costing money but about saving it. It is also about saving people's lives and caring for them in their own homes.

I thank Senator O'Mahony again for raising this very important issue. The particular case to which he referred is a very difficult one. I wonder if that family is getting the €208 mobility allowance currently. Many families in rural Ireland are getting it in the meantime and as the legislation is being progressed. Senator O'Mahony's point about value for money and not only saving money is an argument I am making very strongly myself. The honest and direct answer to him is that there are some obstacles in there. We have the legislation ready to roll and as recently as last week there has been communication between the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We hope to have some movement as soon as possible.

Child Care Services Provision

In the absence of time and because we have spent 45 minutes on three items, I will be brief and to the point. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his reappointment. I am delighted for him. He does an amazing job. Despite all our challenges and talk on Commencement Matters, it is clearly a very difficult time and resources are a key factor in many of the responses the Minister of State has to give us. We respect that as people who work in here. We understand.

To get to the point, we know from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, that there are more than 5,000 people who have been approved for and should have a social worker. They fall into the two categories of children at risk and children who are vulnerable. This is a designated social worker as per best practice and Government policy, which is to say the policy of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. When the Minister was here recently, she told us there were 25,387 cases of children with welfare or child protection concerns of whom her Department was aware. She also said there was a shortfall in need of over 5,000 in relation to social workers. What is the latest update on that? With the indulgence of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I might take a moment in a supplementary to follow up on the response.

I thank the Senator. The Government has made the reform of services to vulnerable children and families a very high priority. Children about whom there are child protection concerns or who are awaiting the allocation of a dedicated social worker have their situations monitored by a social work duty intake team.

Children about whom there is a child protection concern, but who are awaiting the allocation of a dedicated social worker, have their situation monitored by the social work duty intake team. The monitoring may involve a visit to the child, telephone contact with, for instance, the school or preschool or other relevant information. New information about possible risk increasing or decreasing to the child will inform the timeframe of the child being allocated his or her own named social worker.

All urgent and emergency cases notified to Tusla are dealt with immediately. Urgent and emergency cases could involve cases of abandonment, allegations of physical and sexual abuse, parental ill health and the need to find an immediate placement, or threat to the safety or life of a child by a third party.

The number of referrals to the child welfare and protection services provided by Tusla continues to rise. At the end of 2016, Tusla reported a total of 47,399 referrals for the year. Up to 60% of these were child welfare concerns, which were up 12% on 2015. The remaining 40% were child protection concerns, 5% up on 2015. As the Senator correctly pointed out, there are delays in allocating social workers to some children who are the subject of child protection or welfare concerns. It should be noted that cases waiting to be allocated to a social worker include new referrals, as well as children known to Tusla whose social worker is no longer available to them. This could be due to a resignation, a career break or a retirement.

Unallocated cases are a matter of serious concern to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, who has asked Tusla to provide her Department with regularly updated numbers of the unallocated cases with which it is dealing. The Minister also meets regularly with the Tusla board and the chief executive officer, and has identified the reduction of this waiting list as a key priority in its business case in 2017. The most recent figures supplied by Tusla indicate there were 25,384 open cases at the end of March 2017. Of these, 19,226 had been allocated to a social worker and 6,158 cases remain to be allocated. When Tusla was set up in 2014, there were almost 10,000 unallocated cases. This has been reduced to 5,413 at the end of 2016, a 20% reduction in 2016 alone at a time when referrals were rising.

It should be noted the majority of referrals to Tusla do not result in a child protection assessment, with 60% of all referrals deemed to be welfare referrals. Recent increases in family support programmes have been put in place to deal with welfare referrals and to ensure early intervention. Regarding welfare concerns, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs provides strategic and policy direction for children and young people's services committees, CYPSC, whose role is to co-ordinate community and family supports to include families with child welfare concerns. The abolition of unallocated cases remains a high priority, and recruitment and retention of social workers is linked to achieving targets in this area.

In the 12 months to February 2017, Tusla had a social work turnover rate of 8.4%. This compares favourably with other jurisdictions such as England where the 2016 turnover rate was approximately 15%. It remains a concern that despite Tusla’s increased efforts during 2016, including an intensive graduate recruitment campaign in Ireland, including Northern Ireland, recruitment of social workers continued to be challenging, requiring significant recruitment activity to achieve a modest increase in whole-time equivalent staff and to compensate for normal worker attrition rates with which Tusla must contend.

The number of social worker graduates annually in Ireland is between 200 and 250. Tusla is competing with social work services in mental health, hospital, disability, primary care and probation for this limited pool. It is likely the recruitment of social workers will continue to be challenging. For this reason Tusla launched an ongoing recruitment campaign for social workers on its website and it will also be expanding its 2017 graduate recruitment drive to England, Scotland and Wales.

In order to allow social workers to focus on their core duties, Tusla is altering the make-up of teams to draw on other grades, such as social care workers, family support practitioners and clerical administration staff, as appropriate. The Government is committed to funding Tusla to drive forward the reforms and recruitment of the additional social worker complement. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will continue to monitor progress closely in this regard. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, will continue to engage directly with the Tusla board and senior management team over the course of the year, to review the progress being made in reducing unacceptable numbers of cases that have not been allocated to a social worker.

The reality, which the Minister of State accepted, is that there are over 5,000 children involved. The reply to a parliamentary question tabled in the Dáil indicated that more than 5,000 children who have been brought to the attention of child welfare and protection services have not been allocated social workers. That is totally unacceptable. These are children who are at some level of risk. The State is acting in loco parentis in respect of many of these children. It has a duty and responsibility. Have we not learned anything from the past about the protection, welfare and responsibility of the State when it is acting in loco parentis in respect of these children? They are children who are vulnerable, some of whom have come through horrific circumstances, yet they do not have social workers. I met a woman who had her young child in court in north County Dublin last week. She has a very young child yet there was no social worker. She has difficulty with language because she is non-European, although she is an Irish citizen. These people are vulnerable and need assistance. The State will be sued. Legal action will be taken against the State in the future in respect of its failure to provide social workers for children for whom it acts in loco parentis. The State has a constitutional obligation to protect and care for such children.

The Minister of State referred to own named social workers. Social workers build relationships with children and children build relationships with social workers. Children confide to them very sensitive, hurtful and personal experiences. They need the continuity and consistency of an allocated social worker to advocate for them. I rest my case. It is an unsatisfactory response. It is not the Minister of State's response but it is absolutely unsatisfactory. It is something this House and the Dáil will have to come together on to exert more pressure because they have to be found. These are vulnerable children. The Minister of State knows that more than anyone and I know he is committed to supporting them. It is an unsatisfactory response and it is disappointing to say that. It warrants a constant review; we should know every two weeks. I will ask some of my colleagues in Leinster House to table parliamentary questions next week. It is critical and crucial. It is important and the situation is not acceptable.

I take the points raised by Senator Boyhan, particularly those on the number of children waiting for the allocation of dedicated social workers. Nobody will argue against that but let us also look at the current situation and what is happening. At the end of March 2017, Tusla had 1,486 whole-time equivalent social workers and it is at 42% of its 2017 recruitment target of 62 additional social workers. Senator Boyhan asked if we had not learned. We have to learn from life's experience and we have to learn that leaving these children in this situation is not acceptable. We sat down and thought about it and came up with a business plan. Tusla's 2017 business plan has identified a target of 369 additional staff, which will include 62 social workers and 157 social care workers. I want to use this opportunity to commend the staff I have dealt with a lot recently, namely, the social care workers in the services. I commend the great work they do. In addition, 103 family support workers and 35 clerical administration staff will be recruited. That business plan is there and we are trying to implement it.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, will be given a budget of €713 million, an increase of €37 million. We have a problem with getting social workers and other staff, and that is something we have to deal with. With an increase of €37 million, it is not a question of money; it is a question of getting the staff.

Sitting suspended at 3.25 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.