Institutes of Technology should run courses in social work as the number of graduates from "traditional universities" is not meeting the demand, the new chairperson of Tusla has said.

Former Labour party leader Pat Rabbitte expressed concerns to the Oireachtas Committee for Children and Youth Affairs that it is "very challenging" to find social workers for Tusla. 

He said the organisation is "running to stand still" as 142 social workers were recruited by the Child and Family Agency last year and 158 left through retirement and other reasons.

He acknowledged that deficiencies in the agency have been highlighted in recent years and it is "undeniable that challenges continue to exist."

Mr Rabbitte said it is unavoidable that there are legacy issues and cultural changes that must be confronted.

Resources are finite and the recruitment of social workers is "very challenging", he added. 

"The shortage of social workers leaves the agency vulnerable to criticism when non-compliance with best practice is sometimes established".

Labour TD Sean Sherlock said there is an awareness among TDs of the shortage of social workers and the consequences of that shortage.

He and other TDs said that people are doing their best within Tusla to manage increasing case loads but there is a rate of attrition of social workers and the Oireachtas, the Minister for Children and Tusla need to "crack that nut."

Mr Rabbitte said said 800 social workers have been recruited since 2014, but the net gain is minimal at 4%.

Citing last year as an example, he said that the Government recruited 60% of the available social workers which was 142 but 158 left the service through retirement and other reasons.

Mr Rabbitte said: "It's a huge issue for us. We really do have to look at whether education of social workers should only be the remit of the traditional universities. We need to look outside the traditional universities."

He suggested there should be a conversion course for other grades such as social care workers to become social workers.