Social worker needed for each foster child

Every child in foster care should have a dedicated social worker, a new report has found.

It has also been recommended that a system be put in place so that “vulnerable” children are not returned to a home they have been removed from multiple times before.

The Provision of Foster Care Services in Ireland was published yesterday by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

The committee began examining the foster care services after the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) highlighted “disturbing revelations” within the system last April.

That Hiqa report found that more than 100 foster carers had not been put through the required repeat vetting.

At the end of December 2016, there were 6,258 children in care.

Almost 93% of these children are in foster care within a family setting.

Tusla, the child and family agency, oversees the care system in Ireland.

In the report published yesterday, the committee made 12 recommendations.

The first recommendation is in relation to the need for proper data on the care system.

It recommends that comprehensive data be collected nationally “so as to give a precise breakdown of the type of care settings in which children are being placed and the circumstances surrounding their placement in care”.

Private foster care companies are also called into question by the committee’s report. It recommends that a “value for money” review be carried out in relation to private foster care companies.

The Oireachtas committee recommends that consideration be given to “diverting funds away from the use of these companies” and redirected into the recruitment of foster carers and sufficient social workers so the same range of supports can be provided directly by Tusla.

One of the most serious recommendations in the committee’s report relates to children returning to care settings that they had already been removed from.

In the case of ‘Grace’, the intellectually disabled child, who is now in her 40s, she was sent back to the foster home she was abused in after she was hospitalised for bruising on her thighs and breasts because of confusion over what to do with her.

The committee recommends “a plan be put in place to ensure that vulnerable children are not returned after repeated instances of removal under section 12 of the Childcare Act 1991 to the same circumstances that required them to be taken into care in the first place”.

Another bone of contention in the provision of foster care services in Ireland is an emergency out-of-hours phone service (EOHS), that carers or children could call in the event of an incident.

This phone service is only available in certain locations around Ireland.

The committee recommends that an EOHS be provided in all areas of the country.

Tusla welcomed the report yesterday and said many of the recommendations within it are currently “under way”.

“I’d like to express my admiration to foster carers who open their homes and dedicate their time to children who find themselves in very difficult circumstances and are unable to live with their family — they are the backbone of our child protection system,” said Tusla chief executive Fred McBride.

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