Earlier this month IMPACT trade union’s health and welfare divisional conference passed a motion calling on the union to engage with Tusla, the child and family agency, to seek enhanced conditions of employment for child protection and social workers to “reflect the onerous, complex and crisis-driven nature of their work.”
This comes as Tusla was placed under renewed media scrutiny following the broadcast of an RTÉ Investigates programme about failures concerning children in care.
The programme appeared on the same day as the publication of a report by the Government’s special rapporteur for child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, which contained serious criticisms of the organisation’s systems and procedures.
Adrienne Byrne of IMPACT’s Kildare branch, who works at Tusla, argued for a more balanced and fairer media narrative regarding the agency and its work. She said dedicated social care workers delivering services to vulnerable children in very difficult circumstances were villainised by a media that is obsessed with finding culprits rather than solutions.
“Morale in Tusla is at an all-time low and that’s driven by the media. The narrative has been negative and reactive. The coverage is made up of highly filtered information that is primarily anti-Tusla” she said.
IMPACT communications officer Niall Shanahan said a high volume of coverage in an intensely competitive media environment made it difficult for people to separate facts from opinion. “This is particularly the case as calls for ‘heads to roll’ become increasingly shrill. As is often the case in moments of crisis concerning public service workers, these calls generate more heat than light, and the term ‘public servant’ once again finds itself being turned into a casual insult,” he said.
IMPACT assistant general secretary Chris Cully said little of the huge amount of very good work TUSLA does is ever covered by the media, while Niall Guy, who is an out-of-hours social worker, said the voice of social workers was “lost in the noise.”
“Morale is low in my department. Everyone finds the constant negative coverage depressing. Both because there is a degree of truth in some of what is being said and because there is never any balance: never a counter-narrative,” he said.
Social workers are continuing to do their work in a very challenging environment, as they do throughout the year, despite the noise and opprobrium raging on the airwaves and in the press. This doesn’t make the work of child protection any easier.