Hiqa questions reliability of State data in relation to Garda vetting after foster care services inspection

The reliability of State data in relation to Garda vetting and reviews of foster carers has been called into question by the health watchdog following an inspection of foster care services in the mid-west.

Data provided by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) indicated all foster carers in Clare, Limerick, and North Tipperary had been Garda vetted.

However, inspectors found no evidence on file of Garda vetting of 30 foster carers and 116 adults living in foster carers’ homes.

Some members of the foster care committee, whose job it is to approve foster care placements, had no updated Garda vetting.

There were also concerns over data relating to reviews of foster carers. The National Standards for Foster Care state that the first review should take place one year after the first placement and subsequent reviews at three-year intervals. Data provided by Tusla indicated 96 foster carers had a review in the previous 12 months.

An examination of a sample of files found no evidence of a review for three of those identified as having had a review.

In its report, published yesterday, Hiqa said it was “subsequently confirmed by staff that the reviews had not been held”. Therefore the data from Tusla was “not reliable”.

In one case, a review was carried out without a home visit to assess the foster family’s living circumstances.

Jim Gibson, Tusla’s chief operations officer, admitted the Hiqa report “had thrown up some issues for us”.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s News at One, Mr Gibson said the absence of Garda vetting on files where Tusla had claimed vetting had taken place was partly explained by members of the foster care family who had turned 16 and now required Garda vetting, but previously had not.

Hiqa also raised concerns around handling of allegations, saying claims of abuse “were not managed and investigated in a timely way”.

While there were 35 child protection and welfare concerns or allegations made against foster carers in the past 12 months, there were only three foster care reviews held following notification of allegations to the foster care committee.

Hiqa found long delays in the completion of assessments of relative foster carers, as well as failure to allocate a social worker to 30 general (non-relative) foster carers.

The standards require that foster carers be supervised by a social worker, known as the link worker. The foster child is also allocated a social worker. Hiqa found there were seven foster care households without a link worker where the children were also without an allocated social worker. This “posed a significant risk”.

Mr Gibson said Tusla needed to “up its game” in terms of checks and balances. However, defending the agency’s performance, he said the report had highlighted “excellent practice in areas such as training and the quality of assessments of foster carers”.

In relation to areas in need of improvements, such as supervision and timely reviews, he said they were being “actively addressed through a comprehensive action plan which has been submitted to Hiqa”.

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