Some foster carers in parts of the country with the busiest caseloads have still not been properly assessed and others have not been vetted for years, a report reveals.
The Health Quality Information Authority (Hiqa) raised its concerns following a five-day inspection last October and November into the foster care service in Dublin South West/Kildare-West Wicklow.
While stressing there were numerous instances of excellent practice, and that the foster care services exceeded the standard when it came to the education category, Hiqa also said that “reviews of foster carers did not occur routinely and An Garda Síochána vetting was not up to date”.
Some reviews were outstanding for five and six years.
At the time of inspection, there were 332 children in foster care with 149 children living with relatives, and the remaining 183 living with general foster carers.
Of the 26 standards assessed by the watchdog, one standard was exceeded, nine were met, 14 required improvement, and “significant risks” were identified in relation to two areas — assessment and approval of relative foster carers, and reviews of foster carers.
According to the report: “Inspectors found the assessment process had taken from 12 to 16 months in some instances and in one exceptional case a child had been placed with a relative in 2008 with the assessment not finished and the placement approved until 2015. At the time of inspection, there were 14 unassessed relative carers.”
Hiqa received assurances from a principle social worker about two cases where an adult living in the home had not been vetted and another where past convictions had not been addressed. Data showed vetting was out-of-date for 57 general foster carers.
The inspection found 13% of children in foster care did not have an allocated social worker and a number of children had not received statutory visits in line with regulations, including three children where there was no evidence of visits since 2014.
There were 17 children without a link social worker, although inspectors found that there were no immediate risks. There were 34 general foster carers and 46 relative carers without a link worker. In one case, the link worker was only allocated after an allegation was made and then was not allocated until six months after the allegation.
Reviews were not routinely held when a placement was at risk of ending in an unplanned way, as had occurred in 21 cases in the previous two years, and some foster carers in a focus group spoke of a number of placements which ultimately broke down, attributed to “the lack of support and information they received”.
Five children had been removed from carers in the 12 months prior to the inspection. There had been eight allegations classified as meeting the threshold of abuse in the 12 months prior to the inspection, one of which related to a private placement. All were examined but Hiqa said they were not always managed “in a timely manner”.
Elsewhere the report also cites a shortage of staff and the uneven provision of aftercare services.
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