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Recruiting social workers would aid foster care

  • 19 Sep 2016

Profits of private companies could be used to build State’s resources

Fiona Gartland, Irish Times

19th September 2016

Private foster care companies have grown in the past few years in Ireland to fill a need Tusla has been unable to meet. As a result, children in care in Ireland have created an opportunity to run a profitable business.

At the end of June this year, 334 children in care were placed with foster carers sourced by private companies. At its height last year, that figure was 316, and in 2014 it was 276.

The private companies find potential foster carers and vet and train them. Once the foster carers are given a child to look after, the private companies supply a foster link worker, to liaise with Tusla social workers and offer support to the carers.

All of the decisions about, and the responsibility for, the care of the child, as well as their therapeutic and educational needs, remain with Tusla. The foster carers themselves, whether privately recruited or identified by Tusla, receive the same payment.

When a child is placed with private foster carers, it costs the State considerably more. Last year, Tusla paid private companies €18.35 million for, at the most, 316 children, averaging at €58,000 per child. Foster carers, who were handling some 5,616 children at the end of last year, received an average of €17,900 per child at a total cost of more than €100 million.

Good reputation

The private companies do spend time and resources in recruitment. They advertise and utilise social media to find potential foster carers. And they offer ongoing support to the foster carers on their books. They have a reputation for doing a good job for children and foster carers.

But they are also businesses and most make a profit. Fostering First Ireland, for example, made a pre-tax profit of €702,000 last year.

Whether as part of the Health Service Executive or, from 2014 on, as part of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, the State’s child protection teams have been under pressure, particularly since the recession.

Though there was officially no moratorium on social worker recruitment, the speed at which new social workers were brought into the system was slower than most parties would have liked.

At the same time, child protection notifications increased, doubling over 10 years, and some social workers, with over-large caseloads, became burnt out and moved out of child protection, depleting numbers.

While some areas of the country have dedicated foster care teams that can source potential foster carers and work with them, because of the ongoing shortage in other areas, social workers must cover all child protection roles, including working with potential foster carers.


As a result, if a potential foster carer contacts Tusla, depending on where they live, there can be considerable waiting periods for assessment.

“Because of the lack of social workers, there are certainly gaps,” saysCatherine Bond, chief executive of the Irish Foster Carers’ Association. “There can be a waiting period between the time somebody contacts the Tusla office and the ability of Tusla to respond.”

She says private companies can respond quicker. The majority also provide a 24/7 helpline, while currently, if a Tusla foster carer needs help out-of-hours, they must wait until the next day or, if necessary, contact gardaí. The association also provides a helpline, from 11am -3pm daily.

“Sometimes, it’s about knowing that you have a number to call; you might never phone it but you just know it’s there,” Ms Bond says.

There are just over 1,400 whole-time social workers employed by Tusla at present, and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said the organisation aims to recruit 168 by the end of the year.

But if there was greater recruitment of social workers, more staff could be dedicated to foster care teams. And given the resources, these teams would be able to find and recruit more foster carers and provide them with the support they need.

There would be less need for private foster care companies. And the money provided to them by Tusla, and the taxpayer, that becomes profit for those companies, could be spent directly on services for children instead.


Private foster care is three times more expensive, figures show

Tusla paid €18.35m to nine companies last year to source, vet and support carers