OVER 12% of children in care in the Mid-West have no allocated social worker, according to figures from Tusla, The Child and Family Agency.
Limerick does better, with just 15 (or 5%) of the 295 children in care without a social worker as of June 30 this year.
There are also significant shortages of link workers, staff who support and advise foster carers.
The data shows that only 101 of 212 foster carers in Limerick currently have a link worker to rely on, while just 275 of 438 foster carers in the Mid-West have a link worker.
Shortages in key staff are a cause of huge concern among foster families, according to one Limerick foster parent who spoke to the Chronicle on condition of anonymity.
The vast majority of children in care in Limerick - 280 out of 295 - are with foster families.
“If you look at Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary and the amount of children in those three areas who have not got a social worker, families who have not got a link worker, and children who have not got an aftercare worker as they prepare to leave care, it is actually frightening,” said the foster parent.
“We have had the Ryan report, the HIQA reports, the Ombudsman’s reports and all of them essentially saying the same thing - that it is all under-resourced. It has got to stage with social workers that their caseloads are so great that they can’t actually fulfil what they are supposed to do.”
Aftercare workers are supposed to begin planning for children leaving care once they reach 16 but the actual aftercare supports - which are due to be reformed in the near future - don’t kick in until 18 and cease at 23.
According to Tusla, all 88 young people in the 18-to-23-year-old age bracket in Limerick have an allocated aftercare worker.
But according to the Limerick foster parent, there are only two staff allocated to these young people, which he said was indicative of the huge pressure on care staff. He believes morale among social care teams in the region to be “at rock bottom”.
On the numbers currently without an allocated social worker in the region, a spokesperson for Tusla said: “There are five agency social workers and two temporary social workers employed in the Mid-West at present to address frontline service needs and mitigate risk”.
“The Local Children in Care Service conducts regular and ongoing monitoring/reviewing by social work management (principal social worker and social work team leader) of any unallocated children in care cases. There is a monthly review of allocation based on need and risk.”
The Limerick foster care parent said there was currently an acute shortage of social workers in County Clare, where he said 42 children were without a social worker after the recent redeployment of two staff.
But Tusla said it was currently reorganising caseloads in Clare “so that high and medium priority cases are allocated and so that the only cases which will be unallocated are low priority cases”.