CHILDREN are having to remain in special care units instead of being placed with foster families because of lengthy waiting times for Garda vetting.
The head of a private fostering company described the vetting delays as “stifling the whole system” and warned that the waiting time for children to have new families is too long.
Miriam Uhlemann of Fostering First Ireland (FFI), which has been operating here for five years, said she has a “significant” backlog of complex cases on her books. Ms Uhlemann said the knock-on effect was that children are not getting the right placement they need.
“We are talking 18-20 weeks at the moment. That’s enormously difficult. We have people who are sitting waiting to go to the HSE panel for approval. We are not willing to cut corners and we will not allow them to go to the panel without everything being right.”
Ms Uhlemann said she believed there was a role for fostering children who are currently being placed in special care units.
Special care units, for which a court order must be obtained, have been the subject of much controversy over their cost, and how they are being run.
“There are and always will be children who have had such experiences that it will be difficult for them, but well supported fostering has got to be an alternative,” said Ms Uhlemann.
“One of our first children was called ‘unfosterable’; that child is still in a placement with a foster family today. It was difficult and it was all hands on deck, but we all pitched in and it was a success.”
FFI, which recently opened a Cork office, specialises in placing children and young people who have experienced severe forms of abuse and often harbour complex emotional issues.
“Older, harder to place children are our niche. These children deserve the best, the odds are stacked against them, they have had experiences that children really should never have, and to see them thriving in an environment is so rewarding. Our statistics show that 43% of our children have been in placements over two years. All of our children are in education.”
FFI also runs, in partnership with the HSE, a specialist fostering service for Separated Children Seeking Asylum.
“These children often arrive in Ireland, from places such as Africa and the Middle East, having fled conflict, oppression, danger and abuse. We are helping to place them in foster families and move away from the hostel-type accommodation which was provided in the past and for which the HSE was heavily criticised in a report by the Ombudsman for Children.”
Fostering First Ireland has three offices based around the country, in Dublin, Carrick on Shannon and Cork, and provide locally based support, training and assistance for foster carers.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved