Tusla overpaid staff by more than €1m

Payroll overpayments in excess of €1m, €4.7m spent on goods and services without proper procurement, and weaknesses in oversight and monitoring of grants to outside agencies are among the concerns flagged in the 2017 annual financial statements of Tusla, the child and family agency.

The shortcomings are acknowledged in a statement on internal control by the chair of Tusla’s board, Norah Gibbons. They are also referenced by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who audited the accounts.

Ms Gibbons said some of the procurement issues arise from contracts inherited from the HSE, when Tusla was set up in 2014. She said the overpayments problem was largely due to the process being manual, and that they are working towards an automated solution.

In relation to control weaknesses relating to the monitoring and oversight of agencies in receipt of €152m in exchequer funding, these were identified in an audit that reviewed 33 grant payments (totalling €19.5m).

While grantees are required to submit a certificate of compliance from their auditors stating that the funds are applied for the purposes intended, the audit found that the certificate was received in just 25% of cases.

There were also shortcomings in the process governing funding for Family Resource Centres (FRCs), which requires submission of an application form. In its review of a sample of 10 payments totalling €1.07m, the audit identified instances where no application forms or service level agreements were used in 2017. All agreements for the FRCs were extended from 2016.

Ms Gibbons said: “The agency recognises that there is a need for continued emphasis on and development of the control environment and a focus on the need to drive a single organisation wide culture of compliance.”

These weak financial practices are against a backdrop of children being referred to the agency at a rate of one referral every 10 minutes last year. According to Tusla’s annual report, published separately to its financial statements, total referrals reached 53,755 in 2017, up 10,000 since 2014.

While Tusla has improved its performance in relation to allocating a link social worker to children placed in foster care with relatives who have not been properly assessed, in one in 10 cases, there was still no link worker. The function of the link worker is to support the foster family and review the care they provide.

A quarter of retrospective cases of abuse had no social worker in December 2017, albeit a significant improvement on the previous January when the figure was 56%.

On the upside, out of 6,190 children in care, the majority of who are fostered, 95% had an allocated social worker.

Brian Lee, Tusla director of quality assurance, said: “Despite challenges such as increasing demand, rising referral rates, and legacy issues, Tusla is delivering on its major programme of reform which will ultimately enhance services for vulnerable children, young people, and families.”

The annual report shows:

  • 721 school attendance notices were issued to parents in the academic year 2016/2017;
  • 156 court summonses issued about poor school attendance;
  • 9,065 children were referred to family support.

The annual financial statements show:

  • €54k was spent on PR and €441k on legal compensation;
  • €34m in outstanding legal claims;
  • Gross pay for CEO Fred McBride was €163,000, up from €136,000 in 2016.

Ms Gibbon said Tusla’s “control environment, risk management processes and assurance arrangements are new and are improving and where there are outstanding recommendations by internal audit and the Comptroller and Auditor General, management action to meet these recommendations will be monitored by the board and its committees and will be reassessed in the 2018 review of the system of internal controls”.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.

By Catherine Shanahan
Health Correspondent

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