Residential childcare staff should be exempt from public service recruitment embargo

16th November 2011

Social care staff, who work with vulnerable children in residential and community settings, should be exempt from the Government’s public service recruitment embargo, according to IMPACT trade union. The union says that, with over 6,000 children in care in Ireland, managers are forced to hire expensive agency staff to maintain child protection and foster care services because they are not allowed to replace professionals who leave.

Speaking today (Wednesday) at a seminar called ‘Putting children first: The role of social care professionals,’ IMPACT official Christina Carney said agencies charged up to €5,000 a week to provide residential care for a single child. The HSE also paid fees ranging from €1,200 to €1,790 per child per week for private foster care arrangements. “This simply makes no sense when investing in our own child and foster care services is better for kids and better value for money,” she said.

Ms Carney gave the Government credit for exempting other key professionals who work with children – like social workers, psychologists and speech and language therapists – from the recruitment embargo. But she said social care staff should be added to the list.

The seminar, which was also addressed by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald and the HSE’s national director of children and family services, Gordan Jeyes, also heard IMPACT demand that proposed fees for health professionals’ statutory registration be brought in line with those for other professions. The Government has set fees for social workers at €295 a year, compared to just €90 and €80 a year for teachers and nurses respectively. Social workers in Britain pay just £30.

“Can someone please tell us why social care workers have not been exempted from the moratorium?  There are more than 6,000 children in care, and yet the HSE and voluntary bodies have not been allowed to replace social care staff who leave the service. The HSE’s Department of Children and Families is at least €40 million over budget.  Yet, because local and regional managers are not allowed employ social care workers, they have to outsource the protection of children to private agencies, which charge at least €5,000 per week to provide residential care for one child. There is absolutely no logic or justification for continuing the moratorium on this basis,” she said.

“IMPACT supported calls for professional registration because we support high professional standards. We welcomed this development, but now that it has arrived, we find ourselves having to campaign to reduce the cost to health staff, because it has been set at far too high a personal price for the dedicated professionals concerned. We have had some success as the cost for existing and graduate social workers – the first group to become registered – was reduced from €380 to €295 (and from €175 to €100 for students) on foot of IMPACT’s intervention. But the proposed registration fee is still way out of line with those for teachers and nurses – currently just €90 and €80 a year respectively – while social workers in Britain pay just £30 pounds,” said MS Carney.

IMPACT also expressed concerns over vulnerable children on waiting lists for social care, and those on the “unallocated” list. “The latter are a huge concern. They have been assessed by the social work team but, solely because of caseload pressure and inadequate numbers of social workers and social care workers, they are not receiving a service. This cannot be allowed to continue,” said Ms Carney.

Ms Carney welcomed the new ‘Children First’ child protection guidelines, but said more was needed on the ground to turn their ambition into reality for vulnerable children. “In the past, the State and its agencies have not always put children first. Too many times and for too long – through its actions and its failure to act – the State and its agencies have hurt, rather than protected, the children in its care. Sometimes in persistent and horrific ways. If the new children’s first guidelines – or any other initiative for that matter – are to have real meaning, they must guarantee that the children of today and tomorrow never suffer the neglect or harm endured for decades by many, many, children in this country,” she said,

She called for a consistent multi-disciplinary approach to social care across the country. “Why does a vulnerable child’s chance of an adequate, rounded, service depend on geography, a forward-looking manager, or just plain luck? Why is there no co-ordinator of social care workers in the community, other than in one or two counties? Why do we not scream that there must be more urgency about the delivery of a good transparent, consistent, high quality service,” she asked.

She also called for more clarity over Government plans to create a single agency for child and family services.