Social workers prepare for fresh challenges

Tuesday 13th September 2011

Changes to the structure of child and family protection services in the HSE, the implementation of the Children First guidelines and the emerging challenges as the HSE prepares to separate child protection functions mean social workers and child care staff face challenging times in the coming months.

IMPACT official Christina Carney has been meeting social workers, childcare managers and family protection workers throughout the country. The  union has also been meeting with HSE management on these issues as preparations are made for legislative and organisational change.

Christina explained that members’ concerns are matched by their determination to improve child care services. “Members are, by and large, optimistic, but they have concerns too. Everyone realises the scale of change that’s necessary to achieve the ultimate goal here, which is to improve the welfare and protection of vulnerable children in the state. None of the members I’ve met has raised issues about pay or terms and conditions. Every single issue is about the children to whom they provide a service, because that is what motivates our members in this sector,” she said.

Christina added that the branch will host a seminar in the coming months covering all of these issues around child and family protection.

An informal meeting last month took place between IMPACT official Christina Carney and the Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, which gave an opportunity to share thoughts about the future of child protection services. “The initial meeting was very positive, and it is vital at this stage to be able to talk to all of the various offices and organisations in this area, because ultimately we share the same goal.”

IMPACT members working in social care have raised concerns with IMPACT that the recruitment moratorium is forcing residential care services to rely on agency staff. In extreme cases, the ratio of agency staff to permanent staff can be as high as five to one.

IMPACT official Christina Carney explained, “Continuity in the provision of care in these settings is vital, and as long as there is a disproportionate dependency on agencies to supply staff, there is little hope of providing that essential continuity.”

However, Christina is keen to point out that this is not a criticism of the agency staff, “These are professional, trained and dedicated staff who want to do the job. But social care workers are currently not exempted from the recruitment moratorium, and we are awaiting clarification from the Minister on this. Meanwhile, the numbers of permanently placed frontline staff in social care settings is diminishing. The most immediate solution to address the growing shortage of social care workers is to lift the moratorium, provide that essential continuity, and reduce the costs associated with hiring agencies. Ultimately, this will ensure a better service to the children who rely on this type of care.”