Remarks by Minister Katherine Zappone at
Launch of Tusla’s Corporate Plan 2018-2020
Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Kildare Street, Dublin 2
Wednesday 28th March 2018
I am really pleased to be here today at the launch of Tusla’s Corporate plan 2018-2020.
This year Tusla begins its fifth year of operation. In childcare parlance it has now moved from preschool to big school!
Big school is quite a transition – I made a similar move myself two years ago from being a Senator to a Government Minister.
It is exciting, daunting and challenging. There is way more homework and a lot more responsibility!
This new chapter for Tusla is well reflected in this Corporate Plan. It deals in a realistic yet ambitious way with the new phase that it is heading into as an organisation.
It is a considerable achievement to have reached this point. The first phase of its existence was managing the immediate necessity of providing critical child protection services while establishing a new organisation.
There are many people who have worked long hours and long days to bring Tusla to this point. It has taken incredible commitment, determination and belief in the project that is Tusla.
Tusla was, and remains Project Children.
In particular I would like to thank the Chair of Tusla, Norah Gibbons. Norah has steered Tusla through its birth and formative years. She has championed children and ensured that their wellbeing comes before everything else.
I also wish to thank the Board of Tusla. I have had many occasions to meet members of the Board. After almost two years from my first meeting with them, I am deeply appreciative of the way they participate so fully, actively, and constructively in their role as Board members.
As Minister and on behalf of the Government I wish to thank Norah and the Board and I think this is a fitting occasion to do so.
The CEO of Tusla, Fred McBride has commented that he believes that the Corporate Plan “aims to fundamentally change and improve the relationship between the State and children, young people, families and communities”.
In 2018 – together we have reached a key moment for child protection in this country.
It was a privilege to be the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to deliver the first ever annual budget for the agency to exceed three-quarter of a billion euro.
This includes funding for 300 extra staff, nearly a dozen new family resource centres, and increased resources for the full commencement of mandatory reporting.
Together we have also made Children First a reality.
At the start of this month all groups working with children published their Child Protection Statements – and made them accessible to their teams and users of their services.
Tusla has shown leadership in this area – setting the example by publishing its own statement a month before the deadline. A gentle reminder to others of the need to act.
Before joining you here this morning I received an important update on Children First.
I am delighted to confirm that over 130,000 frontline workers have completed Tusla’s introduction to the Children First e-learning Programme. That is in addition to the 3,787 internal professionals who have completed this training.
It represents an overall three-fold increase since December – by any standards a significant achievement.
An achievement which will help ensure that children will be better protected and supported.
Work is also continuing on developing a new Irish model to ensure children who have been sexually abused do not have to relive the ordeal by re-telling their horrific experience over and over again.
Tusla actively engaged in fact finding missions to the United States, Northern Ireland and Britain to examine best practice in each jurisdiction. Tusla’s input is critical to the success of this project.
We have learned a lot. Now an inter-departmental group is working hard to place interim recommendations on my desk in advance of Budget 2019.
It is my intention to use those recommendations to argue hard for funding so we can develop our own Irish model of best practice.
We will need the expertise of our frontline colleagues and those of you who support them to make this a success. I am proceeding with these plans confident that we will be successful.
That confidence is rooted in the many positive interactions I have had with our Care and Social Workers through-out the country, as well as the families and young people who they work with.
Whether in Domestic Refuges, Family Resource Centres or Frontline Offices those experiences have left a lasting impression of me.
The dedication, passion and commitment of Tusla teams around the country is what drives me to deliver the resources, the policies and the plans to support their work.
I welcome this ambition. I welcome the increased focus on Prevention, Partnership and Family Support. As part of this, I believe that the role of Family Resource Centres will be central in supporting children and families and I look forward very much to witnessing the additional benefits of the eleven new resource centres recently announced by Tusla.
Recruitment and retention of qualified staff, in particular those who work at the front line is going to determine the speed at which Tusla can deliver on its priorities. Given the shortage of social workers in Ireland and elsewhere, this is not, and has not been, without its challenges.
Those of us who do not engage in the frontline like many Tusla colleagues, sometimes get a rare glimpse of the extraordinary work that is done with vulnerable children and families.
What we consider “extraordinary” is what they do every day. The complexity of their work environment, the management of risk, and the impact they have on the lives of children and families is incredible.
I know there are days when we all wake up to bad headlines.
It is the reality of the world we live in and the type of work that Tusla does. The environment where this work is carried out and the needs of the children and young people that Tusla responds to are among the most challenging in our society.
This makes the agency more liable to negative media comment.
On these days, we need to remember the positive encounters, the children whose lives have been changed for the better and the spirit of kindness that I have experienced so often in Tusla services throughout the country.
In terms of the corporate services, the next phase will see significant progress with helping Tusla to become more self-sufficient. Investment in ICT, Human Resources, Governance, Finance and legal services will strengthen the backbone of the organisation.
I know that during 2017 Tusla was subject to a lot of external scrutiny. All public agencies and services, particularly those working in sensitive areas such as Tusla can expect to continue to be monitored closely. I know this can be challenging and frustrating. But our system of accountability demands this.
We are all scrutinised. Sometimes it ends well and other times not so well! As Tusla develops and increases its management team, this accountability requirement may become more manageable, but I think it is only fair to indicate that I don’t believe it will diminish much.
I share a vision with Tusla. I now have a deeper understanding of the great work that Tusla does on behalf of the state for children and families. I wish to thank Fred McBride and his team for their dogged determination to persist with this work despite the challenges they face every day.
Their successful work is evident in our society. The challenges are also evident, children and families in homelessness, the numbers of children at risk of poverty and the other factors which are leading an increased demand for Tusla services.
I am inspired by the work that you do and I will continue to support you. As a new Agency you have come a long way. All those of you who work for Tusla should be proud of your achievements, proud of the positive impact you are having on the lives of our most vulnerable, and proud of the high quality of services you deliver.