Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Children Robert Troy TD has questioned Minister James Reilly over reports that a number of former social workers, previously employed by the HSE, earned as much as €300,000 each last year to act as court-appointed officers for children likely to be placed in care.

The fees were paid to what are known as guardian’s ad litem (guardians at law) who work as independent court-appointed officers for children likely to be placed in care.

Deputy Troy commented, “There have been repeated government promises to reform this area and tackle the high payments. Despite this costs have risen with spending on legal and guardian ad litem fees increasing from €11.9 million in 2013 to €16 million in 2014. Considering that children in care remain without a social worker or that 3,000 high priority cases have yet to be assigned to a social worker, it is scandalous that scarce resources are being spent on an unregulated and chaotic system while we don’t have sufficient frontline staff to help vulnerable children.

“When I questioned the Minister about these costs he confirmed that the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), the body responsible for administering the guardian ad litem system, could not provide the information on exactly how much is paid out to individual guardians. Remarkably the financial system of Tusla does not have details on number of individual guardian’s ad litem receiving these payments, despite the exorbitant fees being paid out under the scheme.

“The high fees for legal representation are a waste of public money at a time when there is a shortage of social workers. One of the most serious issues that arises is the fact that this area remains unregulated. We don’t who can be appointed, what criteria or qualifications they need and there are also serious variations from region to region in appointments. It is shocking that the Minister does not even know how many guardians are receiving these payments and a clear indication that there are serious financial management issues in his Department and Tusla.

“It is clear that we have a chaotic system at the moment that is not child-centred or child-focused. This is cash cow that is being manipulated and abused for the benefit of a few. We need a system that is fit for purpose and not choked by bloated fees.

This is an area that the government promised to reform but has fundamentally failed to deliver any meaningful change with only a few months left in the Dáil term. The government had the opportunity to reform this system through the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015. Unfortunately they did not take up this opportunity as had been suggested by my Fianna Fáil colleagues and I” said Deputy Troy.