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In response to the current crisis in the care of children and young people in the Irish residential care system, particularly the special emergency arrangements for children placed in the state’s care, the Children’s Residential and Aftercare Voluntary Association (Crava*) has made the following statement.

The current crisis in the care sector with increasing unregistered and uninspected for-profit providers is not a new phenomenon driven by the relatively recent issues of unaccompanied minors and/or the refugee crisis but has come about as a direct result of the state’s failure to plan for and invest in our care system over decades. We remain gravely concerned that the lives, safety and mental health of the most vulnerable children in the country are at severe risk. We believe urgent action is required.

Before the recession in 2007, the majority of children and young people in residential care in Ireland were in homes provided by health boards or voluntary (not-for-profit) organisations. These have been around for many decades, delivering high-quality care and are registered and inspected. Following the recession, with the creation of Tusla, that proportion has flipped to for-profit services, roughly 70% Tusla and the voluntary’s 30%. This is due to a combination of poor planning and funding restrictions.

Tusla made decisions to reduce its capacity and reduce special care. The voluntary organisations had their funding cut. Staff whose salaries and pensions had been part of the public sector scale superannuation had this link broken without consultation.  Though the pension levy was applied to these staff when FEMPI was unwound in 2014, this group of staff was left behind. Over the last ten years, not only was it impossible for the voluntary services to grow to meet the need, but they started to shrink as voluntary boards were being asked to carry deficits, as the costs of running services were not being covered. Staffing became an increasing problem as people’s pay and pension entitlements were unmet.  This has resulted in children and young people paying the price with poorer service available.

The historic and continued underfunding of the voluntary care sector has led to an ongoing contraction in essential care services and the closure of voluntary organisations (three have been forced to close in the past 12 months). Several care organisations are currently facing possible closure, and many have been forced to cut back services due to a lack of funding.

Tusla recognised the issues of for-profit organisations’ dominance in providing care and the funding constraints to the voluntary sector.  In 2022, Tusla launched its residential care strategy to reverse the reliance on for-profit services with its own and voluntary services. To do this, the then Tusla CEO informed CRAVA they had legal advice. Several of our services were entitled to pay and pension arrangements, which would help with all services.  However, the CEO informed us when Tusla tried to process this funding, the Department of Public Expenditure told them to stop.  We understand a process was to be entered into, and two years later, there is no progress from DPAR or on Tulsa’s strategic goals.  At the same time, more young people are being exposed to inappropriate care at a very high financial cost to the state.

The space created by the forced contraction of the voluntary care sector has, over the past ten years in particular, been taken up by the exponential growth of private for-profit companies, but at a significantly higher cost. A Spending Review by the Irish Government’s Economic and Evaluation Services in 2020 showed that the average weekly cost for a child in private care was over €2,000 per week, more expensive (€6,737) than a voluntary care placement (€4,599). The report also showed that private residential care costs accounted for 94% of the overall residential care cost increase observed between 2016 and 2019*.

Judge Dermot Simms most recently highlighted the government’s continuing failure to uphold the rights of children in care. However, the Child Law Project has been reporting on child protection proceedings in the courts for ten years, and every volume of reports has contained cases where judges have expressed their frustration at the lack of suitable residential placements for vulnerable children, especially those with complex needs.

We are calling on the government to address the crisis in our care system as a matter of urgency by providing appropriate funding to the voluntary sector, restoring pay and pension conditions to allow for staff retention and recruitment and an independent review of our care system and a costed and time-limited plan to implement all recommendations from this review. Failure to do so places the lives of vulnerable children at risk.

Public statement by the Children’s Residential and Aftercare Voluntary Association (CRAVA*) 1-3-24


*Crosscae is a member of CRAVA