Group asks why foster service continued operating for a year following severely critical HIQA report

The organisation which represents children in care has queried how a foster care provider which was severely criticised by a health watchdog inspection continued to operate for a year before closing.

The findings of a Health Information and Quality Report included poor oversight of allegations made against foster carers and poor management, with EPIC (Empowering People In Care) also querying the nine-month gap between two highly critical reviews and the year between the first report and the service closing down.

Oak Lodge Fostering Service, in Tusla’s South Region, was previously inspected by HIQA in January 2018 when of the seven standards assessed at that time, five were identified as major non-compliant, including safeguarding and child protection.

On the second inspection, conducted last September, HIQA found that of the seven standards assessed, six were non-compliant, of which two were identified as major non-compliances.

There had been improvements since the previous inspection but the report said serious issues persisted and “several recommendations had not been implemented and the provider was unaware of this”.

It said not all child protection concerns and allegations against foster carers were managed in line with Children First and the Child and Family Agency business processes.

In relation to one major non-compliance HIQA said: “In total, 18 reports had been made to the social work department since the previous inspection.

Two of these involved allegations against foster carers, two were in relation to retrospective disclosures by adults and two were retrospective reports regarding children, as recommended by the independent reviewer.

"The remaining 12 were child protection and welfare reports on individual children in care.

"However, with the exception of the most recent report, which was made one week before this inspection, all the child protection notifications made in 2018 had been made using standard reporting forms but had been sent by email to the children’s social workers and not to the duty social work teams in the Tusla areas in which the children now lived.

It said: “the correct procedures for reporting concerns was not followed, the procedures for responding to allegations against foster carers were not adhered to, and there was no evidence on file that all the reported concerns were appropriately and thoroughly investigated in line with Children First”.

It said child protection and welfare concerns were not reported correctly, the child protection log did not contain all the required information while the tracking system for Garda vetting remained inadequate.

A number of children in care did not have up-to-date care plans and safety planning was not robust.

Concerns were escalated to Tusla and at one point last year the Child and Family Agency had directed that no further placements of children with Oak Lodge should be made for a time.

EPIC said a nine-month delay between inspections seemed excessive in the case of serious concerns around child protection and that it was “of concern” that despite poor findings from the January 2018 inspection it took until January this year for Oak Lodge Fostering Services to cease operating.

Terry Dignan, CEO of EPIC, said: “Too often we are seeing that organisations working with children are not prioritising child-protection through the development of a robust and appropriate child protection framework and the training of staff and volunteers in the protection of children.”

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