The Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has admitted to Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue that she has no plan on achieving a certain level of front-line social workers within the health service this year.

Deputy McConalgoue, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children, questioned Minister Fitzgerald in the Dáil today about the impending crisis in the social work service. He pointed to the latest HSE figures revealing that 71 front-line social workers are due to retire by the end of this month, and the fact that the Government failed to have an extra 60 social workers in place by the end of last year as recommended by the Ryan Report.

Speaking afterwards Deputy McConalogue said: “Instead of taking a step forward on this, we now appear to be taking a step back. Not only did Minister Fitzgerald fail to deliver on the commitment made in the wake of the Ryan report to deliver 60 extra social workers in 2011, she is now washing her hands of the responsibility to tackle major gaps in the service as result of large scale retirements by the end of this month.

“This is deeply worrying. The Ryan Report recognised that social workers are the front-line when it comes to supporting vulnerable children and families in the community. It said gaps in the service need to be filled as a matter of priority if we are to improve child protection in this country. The report recommended that 200 extra posts be filled in 2010 and a further 60 in 2011. The previous Government delivered the extra 200 as required, but just 10 of the additional 60 were in place by the end of 2011.

“This is now compounded by the fact that a further 71 posts will be left vacant by the end of this month as a result of retirements. Today, Minister Fitzgerald shrugged responsibility for this, claiming it’s up to the HSE and ‘management locally’ to deal with.

“I am shocked by the Minister’s casual attitude to what is a fundamental service for vulnerable children. It is not good enough to pass the buck on this one. Why have Fine Gael and Labour created a Department of Children if the Minister in charge won’t take responsibility for a front-line child protection service?

“I am appealing to Minister Fitzgerald to take responsibility for this and set out a comprehensive plan to deal with gaps in the social work service. As we have learned from painful experiences in the past, putting off problems within the child protection services can be deeply damaging,” said Deputy McConalogue.