The payroll bill of the State's Child and Family Agency Tusla rose by over a quarter to almost €300 million between December 2015 and 2019 but its current staffing model may not be sustainable in the coming years, according to the latest spending review by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. 

The review notes that as a result of a 30% increase in referrals since 2015, the agency which delivers child protection, welfare and family support services saw both staff numbers and pay costs rise significantly over the four-year period.

However, it also highlights the high level of attrition among frontline social workers, noting that, in 2018, 142 social workers joined Tusla while 124 left. 

As of last December the agency employed 4,122 whole-time equivalent staff - an increase of almost a fifth since 2015. 

The pay bill rose by 27%, from €233m to €298m.

Tusla was also relying on 605 agency workers, with the review noting that use of agency workers rose by 168%, accounting for 13% of the workforce. 

However, the review notes that the conversion of 408 agency workers to staff contracts earlier this year has significantly reduced agency staff usage. 

The number of administrative staff rose by almost 75% from 457 to 798, and the number of managers more than doubled from 92 to 200 roles. However, the number of frontline social workers only increased by 9%. 

The review notes that the increase in administrative and management staff has coincided with a substantial growth in demand for Tusla's services, and the increased use of agency staff. 

It highlights the recruitment and retention challenges facing the agency, stating that staff turnover, particularly in frontline roles, has slowed its workforce growth.

It notes that job exits have been consistently higher among social work roles than other roles.

"While the staff exit rate (c. 8% p.a.) is low compared to other sectors and countries, the small size
of the pool of qualified hireable professionals available in Ireland  particularly in social work roles
 presents challenges from a workforce planning perspective," it states. 

It also queries what efficiencies will flow from "task shifting" between Tusla's administrative staff and frontline staff. 

The review cautions that forecasting future budget constraints and service needs will be critical to Tusla maximising its impact, stating: "Demands for child protection services may rise in line with growth in the eligible population". 

It says the agency will benefit from "emphasising an efficient approach to resource management that maximises services within budget constraints". 

"It is uncertain how sustainable Tusla's staffing model currently is, or will be in coming years," it concludes.