The child and family agency, Tusla, has promised that it will apply consistent, agency-wide approaches to practices, including signs of safety.

Under a new three-year corporate plan, published today, Tusla says it will provide children and families with the right service, at the right time, for the right reason.

The 2018-2020 Plan says it will promote evidence-informed and risk-sophisticated practice, to provide better outcomes for children and others.

The plan says that demand for Tusla services is growing, due to an increasing population, an above EU average percentage of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, increasing homelessness and an increase in the number of immigrants to the State.

Tusla says it will need significant funding over the period of the plan to increase staff numbers and introduce new services.

Recruitment has proven particularly difficult, it says, due to a lack of appropriately qualified and skilled social workers in Ireland.

It says the level of capital allocation has been low and it will need more funding for information technology services.

By the end of 2018, the plan promises to have over 95% of preliminary child welfare enquiries completed within five days of a referral.

It also promises to have over 95% of referrals, requiring initial assessments, completed within 40 days.

Tusla Chief Executive Fred McBride said the agency had faced many challenges over the past three years.

He said there has been an increase in the number of referrals to the agency due to child homelessness, child poverty and the inequality gap in health and education. 

Mr McBride also insisted that progress had been made across a range of services.

Tusla was set up in 2014 merging a number of bodies.

A number of HIQA reports have highlighted delays in accessing the needs of children and families, where abuse or neglect was suspected.

Waiting times to see a social worker and notification of suspected abuse to gardaí in a timely manner have also been issues.

Tusla says that establishing a cohesive organisation, culture and service delivery model, from three distinct organisations, within a four-year time frame after it was set up was a substantial undertaking.

It say this was particularly so, when the Irish economy was in recession and the organisation faced funding gaps.

The plan says that the nature of the work carried out by child and family services internationally is fraught with risk, given the immense difficulties faced each day by practitioners making decisions that impact on children’s lives.

Tusla employs over 4,000 staff and has a budget of over €750m.

Mr McBride said the agency is getting 53,000 referrals a year, one every 11 minutes.

The number of unallocated cases is 4,200.

He said the number had reduced by 46% and the target was zero.

The level of unallocated cases is affected by the significant increase in referrals and staffing pressures.

Mr McBride said the number of children in care has stabilised at around 6,300, but there is a need to be realistic about what can be achieved and by when.