Tusla spent €14m placing vulnerable children in unregulated emergency accommodation

Company that provided accommodation ‘fabricated’ screenings of staff, posing major risk to young people in its care

Tusla spent €14 million placing vulnerable children into unregulated emergency accommodation which the child and family agency later had to stop using after an internal audit flagged significant issues.

It comes after The Irish Times revealed how a company which provided emergency accommodation for vulnerable children “fabricated” pre-employment screenings of staff, posing a major risk to young people in its care.

The revelations were referred to An Garda Síochána, the Dáil was told this week. The chief executive of Tusla, Kate Duggan, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday and said that €10 million was spent using this company’s services before the issue was flagged.

In response to questions from Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, Ms Duggan revealed that in total, there are two such agencies which Tusla has stopped engaging with. Some €4 million was spent on the second unnamed agency where issues were flagged, bringing the total spent on the two to €14 million.


“We have an internal audit function, and that proactive auditing picked up an issue,” she said. Ms Duggan said it was previously the case that Tusla was given “assurances” around Garda vetting or qualifications. “After that, we thought: we can’t take assurances. We have to physically set up a unit that checks these things manually.”

Ms Duggan said eight staff are now involved in the unit, manually checking documents and qualifications.

Tusla has had to increasingly rely on unregulated emergency accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts and rented properties, to house children in State care. These “special emergency arrangements” (SEAs), run by staff from private companies, have been criticised as inappropriate and unsuitable by NGOs, judges and politicians.

Ms Duggan said that over the last 18 months, Tusla has “scaled up significantly, with the provision of an additional 131 extra beds and the purchase of nine properties, however as a result of the ever-increasing demand, we remain challenged to source appropriate placements for children and young people, particularly those with complex presentations, or those in an emergency.”

“One area of particular focus for us currently is that of special emergency arrangements. Where a shortfall in capacity means a regulated emergency placement or a placement in statutory, community and voluntary, or private care services is not available, a special emergency arrangement is required to ensure an immediate place of safety for a young person. These are unregulated placements, mostly in rented accommodation, apartments, and houses, with staffing from third party providers.”

She also told the committee that there is a need for around 200 extra social workers. The agency currently uses 190 agency staff, with the cost coming in at 10 per cent more than regular staff. Tusla is attempting to convert 50 of those agency staff to regular staff.

At present, some 5,600 children are currently in care in Ireland, of which 90 per cent are in foster care. Ms Duggan said the agency is losing more social workers than it is recruiting, and that while 500 new foster carers are needed every year, only 200 are being recruited.

Meanwhile, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said he has concerns about Tusla’s current reliance on special emergency arrangements, whereby children in care are housed in B&Bs, rental properties or holiday lets.

Mr O’Gorman said the child and family agency is being supported by his Department to reduce such reliance.

“In the interim, specific measures are being taken to promote and support the quality and safety of these placements,” he told the Dáil on Thursday.

The Green Party TD also said it was important to move away from private sector reliance in terms of residential care placements and instead looking to support the community and voluntary sector.

Mr O’Gorman said a total of 27 companies were contracted by Tusla between 2013 and the end of June 2023 in order to provide care for children in special emergency arrangements. He said the child and family agency was facing “ongoing challenges” in sourcing appropriate placements.

The minister was responding to questions from Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion and Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, who raised the recent Irish Times report.

An internal Tusla report found that a company called Ideal Care Services, which it had increasingly relied upon to manage accommodation for children taken into State care in recent years, had “fabricated” pre-employment checks on staff.

Tusla paid Ideal Care €4.5 million in 2022, making it the third highest paid provider of special emergency arrangements that year. The company was paid a further €4.4 million last year, a Tusla spokeswoman stated.

Ideal Care Services is owned by Jossy Akwuobi, (45), from Tyrrelstown, Dublin, who is a pastor with the Wisdom Christian Centre, an evangelical group based in west Dublin.

Mr Akwuobi is listed as the operations director of Ideal Care, which is registered to an address in Mulhuddart, Dublin.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Tóibín said he had a document which showed Mr O’Gorman, while he was previously a local councillor, and the owner of the company being investigated [Mr Akwuobi], had sat on a joint policing committee together as well as former HSE chief executive Paul Reid.

The Aontú leader asked the minister had he ever spoken to Mr Akwuobi about the provision of care.

In response, Mr O’Gorman said he would look at whether he served on the Fingal joint policing committee with him.

“That is a committee of about 40 individuals that meets on a quarterly basis,” he said. “But I will examine that. I certainly never spoken to him on the issue of care.”

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times