Foster children forced to share beds; Some left with carers who had been refused due to care concerns

The malfunctioning state of foster care services across the Midlands has been laid bare in a new report which shows that some children in placements had to share rooms and even beds with other children because of a lack of available places.

The Hiqa inspection of the Midlands fostering service highlighted a catalogue of issues across Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, and Longford, including children having to rely on black plastic bags to move their belongings or carers who refused to give children their belongings on leaving the placement. In a small number of cases children were placed in houses, which caused overcrowding and resulted in unrelated children sharing bedrooms and sometimes beds.

According to the report, it was not always clear that children were related to, or had an established relationship with, carers who were due to be assessed as relative carers, while the level of monitoring and oversight applied in relative carer placements was also criticised.

There were also issues with the foster care committee, including long delays in decision-making. According to the report: “Some children have been placed since as far back as 2011 without a decision being reached.”

The report said: “Inspectors found that a small number of foster carers who had been refused by the foster care committee continued to care for children, despite concerns about their ability to meet the needs of children in care.”

It also found allegations were not always managed in a timely manner and uncovered issues with record-keeping.

At the time of the May inspections, 101 children were placed with relatives and the remaining 256 children were placed with general foster carers. The report showed that of 26 standards inspected, six standards were judged as at “significant risk”, and 20 standards needed improvement.

It also found 8% of children had no allocated social worker and 45% of children did not have an up-to-date written care plan, while there were 23 unplanned endings in placements in the two years prior to the inspection. In addition, 12 of the 111 children’s cases sampled and one in 10 of the foster carer’s cases sampled were escalated by the inspection team to the principal social worker for review due to a lack of timeliness or appropriate action.

Safeguarding visits to some children had not taken place, while the report said staff were carrying significant caseloads and morale on some teams was low.

Jennifer Gargan, the director of Empowering People In Care (EPIC), said the report’s findings were “extremely worrying” and “simply unacceptable”.

“It is clear from this report that there needs to be an effective campaign to recruit more foster carers in this area. Every child in care should have an allocated social worker, care plan/aftercare plan,” she said, adding that timeframes for completion of foster care assessments are required to protect and promote child welfare and stability.

The Care Leavers Network said the report showed “Tusla having to rob from Peter to pay Paul” due to systematic issues, while Barnardos’ head of advocacy, June Tinsley, said the report was proof that money given to Tusla in Budget 2017 needs to be spent on frontline staff.

Jim Gibson, chief operations officer with Tusla, said the Child and Family Agency had put a plan in place to address the changes that need to be made.

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