26 Jan 2024 - IASW in Irish Independent 'Nine-year high as over 84,000 child protection referrals sent to Tusla in just 11 months'
By Catherine Fegan
25/01/2024 at 02:30
Referrals over abuse, neglect and other dangers at around 1,600 a week
Child protection referrals to Tusla have reached their highest level in nine years.
A total of 84,602 referrals were made in the first 11 months of 2023, more than the annual total in any year from 2014 when there were 43,630.
There were 82,855 referrals the year before and 73,069 in 2021 to Tusla, which is the Child and Family Agency.
The statistics, supplied to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD, are a count of referrals and not individual children. More than one referral can be received for a child.
Of the referral type for the first six months of last year, 4,327 cases were classed as physical abuse.
A total of 7,819 children were referred over suspected emotional abuse, 2,906 about suspected sexual abuse and 2,622 over neglect.
Most children were referred to Tusla by gardaí (15,830 referrals), social workers (6,101) and teachers (5,799).
Among the professionals who made referrals were also nurses, probation officers, managers of Direct Provision centres, speech and language therapists, foster carers, the courts and members of the clergy.
Mr Tóibín said the pattern of yearly increasing numbers of referrals highlighted the need for more supports across the area of child protection.
“Child protection is an issue very important to us in Aontú,” the Meath West TD said.
“These figures are extremely alarming. The number of children referred to Tusla for child protection concerns in the first 11 months of last year is higher than the corresponding figure in any year previously.
“It comes in at more than 1,600 children a week.
“These figures underscore all the more the need to expand capacity in the State care system, to provide better financial support to foster carers and to train frontline education or health workers dealing with children on how to identify the warning signs of abuse”.
Vivian Geiran, chair of the Irish Association of Social Workers, said the cost of living crisis and an increase in homelessness were factors pushing up the numbers of referrals.
“The numbers are extremely alarming,” he said.
“They are the highest ever and they reflect the pressure that is there within the system.
“Our population is increasing, which is an obvious reason why numbers are going up, but there is the wider context of poverty, the cost of living and issues such as homelessness, which has increased inexorably over the last number of years.
“These things put huge strain on families, communities, parents and so on.
“Within that then there are other categories of problems, mental health, addiction and so on.
“In terms of our profession, social work is in a crisis in terms of recruitment and retention.
“We need to be doubling the numbers of social workers in Ireland if we are to keep pace with this at all.”