Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Ceisteanna (55)

Anne Rabbitte


55. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures she is taking to increase the retention and recruitment of social workers in Tusla. [51522/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

My question is in the same vein as that posed by Deputy Durkan. I would like the Minister to outline the measures being taken to increase the recruitment and improve the retention of social workers in Tusla. I would like her to specifically address the low numbers of social workers being trained in the country and to outline what can be done to increase the numbers entering the profession.

Tusla has taken a proactive approach to the recruitment of social workers in a difficult and challenging recruitment environment.

There is a shortage of social workers not only in Ireland but also in England, the US, Canada and Australia, as has been noted by HIQA. We made modest progress during 2019. Tusla has had a net increase of 65 social workers since the start of the year, and the turnover rate for social workers has fallen from nearly 9% in 2018 to 7.5% by 31 October this year.

It has been clear to me for some time that we must identify ways to increase the supply of social work graduates in Ireland. Our social workers are the linchpin of so many of our essential front-line services for the most vulnerable in our society.

For some time I have been encouraging Tusla to develop a strategic multi-annual workforce plan, which would reflect the realities of the labour market and the current limited supply of social workers. I am pleased that Tusla finalised a strategic workforce planning model in 2019 which I understand will be rolled out over the coming years. The model will seek to deliver on a strategic focus for Tusla, with a gradual transition to multidisciplinary teams consisting of the optimum mix of skills across social work, social care, therapeutic staff, family support, education welfare, and administrative support.

I welcome the focus on recruitment and retention as part of the roll-out of the strategic workforce implementation plan, assisting staff well-being through the assessment of workplace stressors and critical incident exposure in the workplace.

My Department has also taken the initiative to establish a social work education group which provides a forum for Tusla and other stakeholders, including the HSE and the Probation Service, to explore and take possible actions to influence the future supply of social workers.

A key initial priority identified by the group is the streamlining of student placements which does not happen at the moment. My Department has commissioned research to identify ways and alternative approaches to streamline this process through working with stakeholders. The final research report will be discussed at the next meeting of the group in January of next year.

I thank the Minister for her response.

We recently learned that since 2016, there has been a 125% increase in agency social workers being used by Tusla while at the same time it has actively recruited 3.8%. Tusla CEO, Mr. Bernard Gloster, appeared before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs a few weeks ago and explained to us how it is going to try to transition some of the agency staff on to the payroll of Tusla. I advocate this because children need continuation and support. When one considers that there are 6,200 cases of unallocated social workers at the moment, there is an urgency to this.

What have we done with the universities? Mr. Gloster mentioned Maynooth at the time of his visit. What programmes are in place so that we can increase the intake from 250 upwards to meet the demand?

Tusla is undertaking a significant agency conversion across grades in front-line services, an initiative I very much welcome. The grades to be included are social work, social care, family support and administrative staff supporting front-line teams. Tusla has had productive discussions with Fórsa trade union on the proposed conversion which could potentially involve up to 400 agency staff.

As Bernard Gloster said to the committee, 389 agency posts selected for conversion have now commenced offers from local Tusla management. The offers were started in recent days and are expected to be substantially completed by next week. A short turnaround is envisaged and subject to take-up rates by the workers, expected to be known to a large degree by the week of 20 December, there will be a commencement of the conversions in January 2020. In the event that the offers are refused - some may be refused and worker choice is a big factor - by the same token 389 posts are being offered, which is substantial progress.

This is really welcome and I compliment the CEO and his staff on the work they are doing on that. We cannot survive on agency staff as it is not good enough for the families or for the children. The figure of 389 conversions starting on 1 January 2020 is a great start for Tusla. May it continue because there are many more staff who hopefully we can bring on to the conversion programme.

Can the Minister address the issue of Maynooth or whatever other colleges may be involved? Has she worked with the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, or the Minister for Education and Skills on other courses where we can expand opportunities to recruit and to train and develop people in the sector? There are not enough spaces there, so how can we increase the figure of 250 upwards?

I thank the Deputy for her compliment for Mr. Gloster.

Tusla is exploring its sponsorship initiatives in an effort to increase the number of students studying social work, and thereby, increasing the supply of social workers available to the agency. This is happening and I expect this will produce some results as well.

We have been engaging directly with the Department of Education and Skills and there are officials from that Department on the working group established by my Department to look at how to increase the number of places at third level. The first thing that has to happen, as indicated in the first part of my response, is that we need to have a streamlined placement service for the students which has not happened yet. This makes it more difficult for universities to increase their supply of spaces unless it is easier for them to place students, as we do for doctors and nurses, etc. That will happen.

There are some changes in the retention. The survey of workers identified that if they are supervised and supported by a stable management team, and, in particular, a team leader, they will want to stay. If they have a manageable caseload, they will want to stay even more. If they work alongside a fully-staffed, stable and experienced team, they will want to remain longer again. All those issues are being addressed.