Although the overall number of children coming to the attention of CYF has been decreasing over the past six years, an increasing proportion of these children are already known to the agency. In 2004, most of the notifications made to CYF were for children not previously known to the agency. In 2014, six out of ten notifications were for children the agency already knew about. Many of these children had extensive history with the agency - on average, these children had engaged with CYF on three previous occasions.
This pattern of increasing repeat notifications is associated with an increasing delay between notification and subsequent intervention. In 2014, children having their first care and protection Family Group Conference had, on average, more than four prior reports of concern and this figure more than doubled between 2000 and 2014.
Child abuse and neglect occurs within families across all parts of the community. However, many of the children and young people who come to the attention of CYF are living in families who are experiencing the combined impacts of long-term unemployment, low income, unaddressed physical and mental health needs, parental alcohol and drug addictions and family violence.
To illustrate, of all children born between 2005 and 2007 who had come to the attention of CYF by age five, 70 per cent were in families where the Police had records of at least one family violence incidence involving the parents in the five years prior to the birth of the child and 37 per cent had a least one parent who had served a criminal sentence over that same period. 40 per cent had a mother who had been receiving a benefit for more than four out of the last five years prior to their birth.
CYF currently works with about 3,500 caregivers, yet there is no national picture of the needs of our care population, the range and needs of caregivers, what works in their recruitment or retention and what kind of support is needed. There is no overarching, nationally co-ordinated approach to caregiver recruitment and there is an inability to predict and plan for future requirements.
A high proportion of caregivers are in low income households and 42 per cent of the caregiver population are in receipt of a benefit. The majority of CYF caregivers are middle-aged, but a significant proportion are nearing the age of 60 years or older. This is a concern in that children who have complex and significant needs are being placed in households where resources may already be stretched and the capacity of the caregiver to meet needs may be constrained.
CYF employs about 3,200 FTEs and relies on social work and social workers as the primary means of service delivery. There is currently fragmentation at a national level in social worker qualification and training, which is reflected in a lack of consistent practice within CYF. There is also a lack of workforce planning and reporting capability within CYF that results in a lack of long term planning to address these issues.