Tusla spending €500,000 a week housing children in emergency placements

Cost of hotel rooms and other properties up to €1 million per child in some cases

The State child and family agency has been spending more than €500,000 a week housing children in hotel rooms, rented properties or other emergency placements, figures show.

Emergency placements are used where a child is taken into State care and there is no available space in a residential or foster home, or where a previous care placement breaks down due to behavioural issues.

Figures obtained by The Irish Times show in a number of cases Tusla is spending more than €1 million a year on emergency arrangements to house some young people in care.

There were 48 young people living in emergency placements in mid-November. That included 24 young people placed in rented accommodation, five in hotels, and 19 in other arrangements, such as an Airbnb letting or a Tusla property.


An internal analysis by Tusla in May found the agency was spending on average €500,000 a week housing children in emergency accommodation.

Kate Duggan, Tusla’s director of services, said the arrangements were used in special circumstances: “This is where there is a breakdown in a placement, [or] where a placement can’t be identified.”

Some young people had complex needs, meaning they were unable to live in a residential group home for children in care, with foster parents, or their family.

“Those can range from a life of significant trauma, it can involve very high emotional behavioural issues, it can involve where they have mental health issues, perhaps suicidal ideation,” Ms Duggan said.

Tusla had seen an increase in the numbers requiring emergency placements since the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.

The annual cost of the emergency placements was about €800,000 per child, twice as high as the cost to house a child in a privately-run residential group home. The arrangements are more expensive as they often require a ratio of three staff per young person, who needs 24/7 support.

Tusla’s internal analysis estimated the agency will spend nearly €30 million on emergency placements this year. The analysis was prepared for the Department of Children and released under the Freedom of Information Act.

It found that while the majority of young people in emergency placements were older teenagers, some children were younger than 13.

Young people were spending on average more than three and a half months in the placements, in some cases more than six months.

The analysis warned that the reliance on the placements left Tusla at risk of “reputational damage”, as well as opening the agency up to “risk of litigation”.

While providing an immediate place of safety they left the young people involved with “no sense of belonging” and exacerbated “inconsistency” in their care.

In three quarters of cases young people had experienced “multiple breakdowns” of previous care placements, it said.

Tusla could not meet all the complex needs of these young people on its own, Ms Duggan said.

“If they are involved in significant criminal activity, substance abuse, suicide attempts, that’s where we require the support and help of all of the different Government departments and agencies,” she said.

In some instances children were placed in hotel rooms for one night. “They are not what we would want for young people over a longer period of time,” she said.

In about a third of cases young people had previously been living in a residential group home, but the care placement had broken down. This sometimes followed “very significant assaults” on staff, or in other cases violence towards parents or foster carers, she said.

Tusla was planning to develop smaller one- or two-bed residential centres, where young people in care with more complex needs received “additional engagement” from other agencies, such as mental health services or other necessary supports, Ms Duggan said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times