Tusla is still having difficulties in its fostering service due to the challenges of recruiting foster carers, with a new report showing some areas had major non-compliance with standards in the past two years.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) published an overview report of the inspection of the Child and Family Agency’s (Tusla’s) foster care services in 2019 and 2020 and inspected the 17 Tusla service areas on six standards.
The report found six service areas were compliant with the standard regarding the child and the social worker, while eight were moderately non-compliant, and three majorly non-compliant, the latter group including Cork.
It said: "Poor practice was in evidence in a small number of service areas. For example, in Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary, 64% of children’s files reviewed for this purpose did not contain evidence that the children were visited in line with regulations. In Cork, this figure was 46%."
All areas were compliant with the standard involving assessment of children and young people, but when it came to care planning and review, 10 were moderately non-compliant and three majorly so – again including Cork.
Cork, the service area with the largest number of children in care, had 248 child-in-care reviews that were overdue (almost a third of its child-in-foster-care population, some dating back over a four-year period to 2016), and reported that only 66 children’s care plans were not up to date.
"Inspectors queried the accuracy of this data, and also raised governance concerns with Tusla senior managers given the risks and a lack of evidence of an effective service improvement plan to address this significant backlog," the report said.
When it came to matching carers with children and young people, Cork was the only majorly non-compliant service area, while four other areas were moderately non-compliant.
When it came to safeguarding and children protection, three areas – Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan, Cavan/Monaghan, and the Mid-West – were majorly non-compliant.
"In three service areas, Sligo Leitrim/West Cavan, Cavan Monaghan and Mid-West, not all allegations made by children in care were investigated in line with Children First (2017) and safety planning was not adequate for all children who required a safety plan," the report said.
"In each of these service areas, inspectors escalated a number of cases to the area manager and received assurances that the cases in question had been reviewed and appropriate action taken.
"In seven service areas, the interim protocol for managing concerns and allegations of abuse or neglect against foster carers and Section 36 (relative) foster carers (Tusla, April 2017) was not followed in all cases and, in 11 service areas, investigations into allegations by children in care were not always timely and in line with Children First (2017)."
Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary was the only area to be majorly non-compliant when it came to aftercare preparation.
Hiqa said: "There remains an ongoing challenge for Tusla to recruit and subsequently retain an adequate workforce in order to deliver a high-quality, safe, consistent and equitable service to all children in care.
"The majority of services areas were reported as not having a sufficient number of foster carers, reflecting the national shortage of foster carers within the Tusla system."
Responding to the report, Kate Duggan, national director of services and integration at Tusla said: “Today’s report by Hiqa shows that while there are still improvements to be made across our foster care system to ensure the highest possible standard, our efforts to provide a consistent and safe service, are recognised by Hiqa.
"Overall, our services have learnt from previous inspections and have been consistently improving. For example, in the first seven inspections, there were eight major non-compliances across different standards, while in the last four inspections covered by this report all areas were compliant/ substantially compliant.
"Of course, there are still areas which require improvement, and these challenges are being addressed.”
The report did note that the "vast majority of children spoke positively about their experience of being in foster care and the relationships they had made within the families".
It said children spoke about things they liked to do and people and things that were important to them, but also about some of the hard things about living in foster care, such as missing family and moving schools.
While the majority of children were positive about their social worker, others said they had had a number of changes in that regard or hadn't seen their social worker for a long time.
There were mixed views about care plans and most children knew how to make a complaint if they needed to.