The announced inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) took place over four days in February and found the foster care service was compliant with just one of the eight standards reviewed and were majorly non-compliant in four standards.
Hiqa said the level of foster care service in Dublin South West, Kildare, and west Wicklow had actually deteriorated since a previous inspection in 2016.
Those deficits included safeguarding arrangements for all foster carers, timely completion of relative foster carer assessments, the allocation of link workers, and making sure up-to-date reviews had been conducted.
There were 298 foster care households in the area, with slightly more general foster carers than relative foster carers.
However, inspectors found that 29 foster carers had voluntarily left the panel in the previous 12 months, during which time just 11 new foster carers had been approved and added to the panel. Four recruitment campaigns over the same period had resulted in just eight applications.
At the time of inspection, there were 20 foster placements available but Hiqa was told that finding the right placement was often “a challenge” and 14 children were placed outside the area. According to the report:
There was not a sufficient number of foster carers to meet the demand for services.
The inspection report said there were not enough social workers or social work team leaders and that the existing team was working to full capacity. At the same time, 24% of foster carers did not have a link worker, equating to 73 households, and in 14 of those cases the child did not have an allocated social worker either.
Another problem was the lack of up-to-date reviews of foster carers, with 63% having not undergone a review for at least three years.
There were other issues: inspectors escalated four cases where assessments of foster carers had not even begun, while Hiqa also said Tusla protocol for managing allegations and serious complaints was not consistently implemented. In two of nine cases it reviewed, what were serious concerns had been incorrectly categorised as allegations.
While 33 relative foster carers were not assessed, inspectors were also told that up to 30 foster carers had not responded to the email they were sent asking them to renew their Garda vetting, which subsequently expired.
Tusla said it was implementing a comprehensive plan to strengthen fostering services in the area.
Service director for Dublin Mid-Leinster Patricia Finlay said: “The Hiqa-approved plan positions the agency to better address the challenges in what is a highly populated and growing area.”
Tusla said a third fostering team has been in place since April 9 and that a number of measures were planned or already in place, including extra training for carers, better assessments, new foster carers identified as part of a recruitment campaign.
Ms Finlay said: “Unfortunately staffing shortages and growing demands in the area have affected the allocation of social workers to carers and children. The creation of a third fostering team is crucial in addressing this.”